The chicken fajitas nachos can function as an appetizer or as a meal.
Partners and childhood friends Oscar Gonzalez and Eduardo Trejo have brought another spot for Mexican food to Madison with their new venture, Lalo’s. Trejo, a veteran of his family’s restaurant, Park Street’s Taqueria Guadalajara, is clearly cooking food that’s near and dear to his heart at Lalo’s, which opened last fall.
Tucked away in an aging retail strip on University Avenue (formerly home to Marrakech, Shish Cafe and a host of other eateries over the years), Lalo’s has been fairly quiet when I’ve visited. That’s too bad. It’s not a huge space, but it can fit a decent crowd. The dining room boasts a beautiful hand-painted mural; there’s a bar area to one side.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that matter. At Lalo’s, the chips and salsa drop on your table immediately after you sit down — one of many reasons why this can be a top dining choice for families with young kids. Lalo’s provides two salsas, a salsa verde thick with tomatillos, and a rojo. Both are spicy, so if the kids are dipping, you might want to spring for the queso dip or the guacamole; both are excellent. The queso is essentially just melted cheese, but it’s hard to stop dipping the chips in it all the same. The guacamole’s avocado, tomato and sprinkling of cilantro are fresh and make for a slightly healthier indulgence.
Nachos, though listed in the appetizer section, are really a meal in themselves. In addition to the traditional style and a “Nachos Vallarta” with shrimp, Lalo’s features a super version of fajitas nachos, with either chicken or steak and grilled vegetables — it’s fajitas, just served on tortilla chips instead of a sizzling skillet. It’s an impressive plate, built on “white,” green and red chips, with a cascade of queso and delicious seasoned steak and bell peppers. These are some of the best nachos I’ve tasted.
Dinners include flautas, chiles rellenos, enchiladas, milanesa and tilapia, as well as the Lalo’s Special, a highlight. It’s a large steak accompanied by sweet and spicy grilled chorizo, potatoes, rice, beans and grilled cactus, which was tangy and a bit crunchy. The enchiladas verdes, sort of a bellwether dish for me at Mexican places, highlighted the chicken and weren’t overloaded with verde sauce and cheese, as they sometimes are.
Tamales are another treat to order because, let’s be honest — making tacos or quesadillas at home is no big deal, but tamales? Here, they’re offered stuffed with either cheese or chicken, combined with either a verde or de raja (roasted pepper) sauce. They’re not big, so order a few, or a side to go along with them.
Smaller appetites can go à la carte with tostadas or tacos. The taco’s crisp corn tortillas stand up to a saucy meat filling (choose from chicken, al pastor, steak or chicharron). The tacos could use a little more meat with a little more seasoning. My favorite tacos in town are still at Los Gemelos; these — at least the al pastor — seemed somewhat bland in comparison.
Try to include a Saturday trip, as there are added breakfast dishes like huevos rancheros. It made for a particularly good, filling meal, with two fried eggs in a tomato chile sauce accompanied with rice, beans and tortillas. Slow-cooked specialties like pozole and menudo also are sold only on Saturday.
Lalo’s menu is more extensive than what’s usually found at a taqueria, but less wide-ranging than at a Laredo’s, with its many dinners and combo meals. It’s a great addition to the west-side/Middleton area, distinguishing itself from Pasqual’s-Hilldale, Chipotle, Cocina Real and Lupe’s as a real, family-run spot that feels like a taqueria but acts like a restaurant.
Lalo’s Mexican Restaurante, 5510 University Ave., 608-422-5479, 11 am-10 pm Mon.-Sat., may close earlier during winter break, $2-$13