Feb 18, 2012

Taco Rico got the job done

We landed in Fort Lauderdale after an uneventful flight.  After going through all the necessary steps, we were soon on our way to our destination in Cutler Bay, a little over 45 minutes from the airport.

Our breakfast, grabbed quickly at the Maple Leaf lounge at the Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport, was long gone.  The Waffle junior munched on some cheese on the plane, but both The Waffle and The Mrs. Waffle had nothing to eat.  By the time the luggage was retrieved, the car rented and The Waffles on their way under the Florida Sun, it was way past lunchtime.

We hit the I95-S, and since our journey would lead us all the way to the end of the Expressway, where we would hit the US1. I suggested that we wait until then to stop and eat, that surely we would see a spot along the way.

There was a lot of traffic on the South Dixie, so we elected to find a spot on the right side of the road and ignore any places on the left of the road.  It was a good call for a couple of reasons:  the traffic was so heavy that turning left was mission impossible (very long line-ups and heavy incoming traffic) and the restaurants on the left side of the road were not inspiring us:  Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Subway.  But there was absolutely nothing on the right side, except luxurious trees, villas,  and a few business that weren’t serving food.

Until eventually a sign was spotted down the road in Coral Gables: Taco Rico Tex-Mex Café.

The place is not much more then a hole in the wall, and could sit about 20 people in a very limited space maybe 6 feet wide and 20 feet long.  There is also a small patio with a couple of tables.  Despite it being past 2 PM, the place was quite busy, and there was a small line-up of customers ready to order some tex-mex fare.  In fact, the spot seems quite popular as it did not let up even though it was the middle of the afternoon.  Must be cramped at lunch time.

The restaurant felt quite authentic, as much as these places can be authentic: music on a bad radio system, mexican-american art pieces, a few sombreros, signs with bright colours, with a very we’ve-been-here-forever feel to it.

The place could definitely use a refresher: it didn’t look sparkling clean either, the ceiling especially showing its age with spots of various size and colours all over it.  Perhaps signs of the violence that might have occurred during the Taco Battle of Dixie Highway.

The menu was hand-written on the wall behind the counter:  Soups and Salads, Enchiladas, Fajitas, Burritos, Tacos, Quesadillas.  Typical menu.  Mel loves Tacos and spotted the Three Taco Platter lunch special – and it was available, despite the fact that it was past 2 PM on a Saturday.  Turns out, Taco Rico offers their lunch specials form 10:30 AM to 4:00 PM everyday of the week, 9 tex-mex items between $5.29 and $6.29, all served with rice, beans, chips and salsa.  Good deals.  However, my eye was caught by the Suiza Enchiladas, served with green salsa ($8.59).

The man at the counter had a very thick mexican accent, but I managed to order my food and understand his questions. Tacos.  Hard.  Beef.  Enchiladas.  Chicken.  ”Like something to drink?”  Two beer taps were behind him, I ignored the Miller Lite and ordered two Dos Equis. We were thirsty, my friends.  I thought I had managed everything rather well, on more than one front: the total was $21.59. But Taco Rico Guy  he really fooled me when this question:  ”Como you appal?”  I asked him to repeat, still no go.  At the third try, I understood: he was asking me my name, in french!  ”I love french, it is such an elegant language!” he said.  Who am I to argue?

The Taco Rico Guy grabbed a scoop of home-fried tortillas from a large container behind the counter.  I grabbed the basket of chips, dropped them on our table and went back to have a look at the salsa bar, which had 8 different types for us to sample.  The chips were fresh, crunchy.

All salsas looked home made, but I cannot guarantee that it is the case. We had a tough time deciding which one was our favourite between their mild salsa and their chipotle salsa, for very different reason.

Their mild salsa was refreshing, nice tomato flavor and well balanced.  The chipotle had a nice zing to it, but was not too hot.  The Aji, a hot salsa, was not bad either. Their atomic salsa was hotter, quite hot in fact, but it didn’t taste great – almost sandy.

Despite ordering the food at the counter, no need to wait there: food runners will deliver the food at your table.  A girl soon enough called my name (hence the franco-mexican request to find out) and brought our meals to our table about 5 minutes after I had paid.

Melissa’s three Tacos looked very good, filled up with a thick layer of taco beef (ground) and topped with lots of lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.  I would have been jealous, except that my Enchiladas looked great too.  Two soft corn tortillas stuffed with diced chicken, smothered with their green salsa and topped with melted cheese.  Nice portions in both case, with plenty of Mexican Rice and Refried Beans on the side.

The beans were a paste, not a lot of bean texture to it. It didn’t feel dry, though, and The Waffle jr. loved them.  The rice was better, nicely seasoned, tender without being sticky, nice seasoning.  Mel’s Taco were very good, the taco meat was flavourful.  The toppings were very fresh, though the iceberg lettuce could be dried better before being used. The taco shells were fresh too, so they didn’t crumble all over the plate under one bite.

Though the real star of the entire meal was the Suiza Enchiladas.

According to different sources, the dish was apparently invented at Sanborns in Mexico City over 50 years ago.  Suiza means Swiss, and the story goes that Swiss immigrants came to Mexico and added additional dairy products to the list of ingredients available in Mexico.  That’s how the traditional green salsa enchilada was married with cream, swiss cheese or even a béchamel sauce to create these Swiss-style enchiladas.  Taco Rico’s version really feature their Salsa Verde. That salsa was fantastic.  Great flavours, nice tang from the tomatillos and lime juice. I was quite glad there was plenty of it.  The tortillas were fine, nothing special, the chicken was tender but mostly a vehicle to carry the green salsa.

There are 3 others Taco Rico in the Miami area, and if they are all similar to the original, I’d say it is worth stopping for a quick, filling lunch or a late-night snack. The Miami New Times listed Taco Rico as the #1 Cheap Eats in Coral Gables.  And yes, Coral Gables’ Taco Rico got the job done.

Taco Rico Tex-Mex Cafe on Urbanspoon

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