Surprise! Look for the chicken milaneza dinner under the 'beef' section of the menu.
Madison now has a respectable number of taquerias all across town. They range from counters tucked unobtrusively into Mexican groceries (like Enrique’s Market on Northport Drive), to fairly spacious restaurants with wide-ranging menus (Taqueria Guadalajara, Los Gemelos).
Taqueria Sabor Queretano falls somewhere between these two. There are about 10 tables in a bare-bones dining room, but the menu is not large, and there’s no waitstaff per se, just one or two people behind the counter.
It’s easy to miss the place in the greater East Towne sprawl. Despite its East Wash address, its strip mall is accessed off Independence Lane (“behind the McDonald’s” might be the best wayfinder), where the La Hispana grocery is more visible. Keep going down the parking lot; Sabor Queretana is in the next section of the strip.
In the world of Madison taquerias, it seems that each has a specialty. You might come to the conclusion that Sabor Queretano’s specialty is portion size, and frankly, that would be a reasonable conclusion to draw. The size of the burritos is alarming even to those familiar with the burrito-as-big-as-your-head concept. One burrito could easily feed two. The huarache, with its shoe-shaped cornmeal patty base, is a Shaquille O’Neal-sized shoe, loaded down with toppings.
But size aside, Sabor Queretano has more to recommend it than just gigundo platters of food.
A sleeper hit on the menu is the milaneza. Listed a bit secretively under the “beef” section of the menu, the thin battered-and-fried cutlets are available in steak or chicken. And the fried chicken version is the essence of down-home fried chicken, with the pounded thin cutlet maximizing the ratio of spicy breading to tender white meat.
One milaneza dinner is enough to feed two or even three. I split mine with a friend and even then ended up with two large cutlets left over. Pinto beans, rice, soft corn tortillas and choice of green salsa (a hot tomatillo and cilantro) or red (a very hot, smoky chipotle version) provide the Mexican flair, but the dish itself is a blank canvas that will transform with its sides — if you wanted, you could take the dish home and accompany it with mashed potatoes and gravy for a Southern-style feast or Tabasco sauce and dirty rice for a New Orleans-inflected picnic. It’s just great fried chicken.
Huaraches and the similar sopes (a round cornmeal base instead of oblong) are both good picks from among the antojitos (“snacks” or “street food”) section of the menu. Meats for these — as well as flautas, gorditas, tacos, tortas, burritos and the like — are drawn from a list of steak, chicken, chorizo, pastor, carnitas, tongue and tripe.
Carnitas, slow-stewed pork, came properly rich but with few crisped bits to put it over the top. The steak, however, a small dice mixed with equally small onions, was fried crispy, and with more than enough flavor to stand out even rolled into the intimidating burrito.
Chicken filling in the flautas was drier than most, and the flautas aren’t fried very crisp, due in part to a thicker corn tortilla than is usual (often, flautas use a flour tortilla). But, with its topping of lettuce, cotija cheese and lots of crema and tomatillo salsa, they were still delicious, even if they didn’t make my top flautas list.
Weekends, the menu expands, as is typical at many taquerias. Ziplock bags of a dozen tamales are on hand for carryout. Pozole (hominy stew) or menudo (tripe stew) might be available, or birria (traditionally a spicy stew made with goat or lamb).
Here, the birria is listed under the “beef” subsection of the menu, although when I ordered it, the meat turned out to be borrego, lamb. It was fall-apart tender in a complex brick red sauce likely made with ancho peppers, cumin and probably a dash of cinnamon. It’s these weekend dishes that might be Sabor Queretano’s real specialty.
English is spoken, but if you want menu details, it helps to know some Spanish. Four or five different Mexican beers in bottles are on hand, as well as Mexican sodas. No desserts on the menu — but La Michoacana, the Odana Road ice cream and paletas purveyor, at last seems to be making inroads in starting up an east-side location at the far end of this very same shopping center.
Taqueria Sabor Queretano
4512 E. Washington Ave., elsaborqueretano.com, 608-249-0877, $3-$16; 9 am-9 pm daily