1033 S. Park St., 250-1824.
10 am-11 pm Mon.-Fri., 9 am-11 pm Sat. & Sun. Parking. Wheelchair access. Most dinners $6-$8. Tacos $1.75. No alcohol. No credit cards. Checks OK.
One of the benefits of having a growing Hispanic community is a concomitant increase in Mexican restaurants, especially the small, family-run places, each with its own twist on the popular cuisine.
The latest entry in the local Mexican dining scene is Taquería Guadalajara, on Park Street between La Hacienda and El Pastor, two other recommended Mexican restaurants. (A taquería, incidentally, is simply a place that serves mainly tacos and burritos, perhaps a smaller and more casual place than a restaurante.)
The quality of the food is amazing. Four of us stopped in on a recent Sunday night, and came away totally satisfied. Everything was outstanding.
The main dining space fronting Park Street is very, very small, consisting of an L-shaped counter that seats eight, and two small tables. All the cooking is done behind that counter. There are also two small tables in the back room, next to the door leading to the patio. When we were there, everyone was fixated on a soccer game on the TV, with a Spanish-speaking announcer whose excitement on every play was uncontainable, even though no goals were scored.
The menu belies the tiny cooking area, for the offerings are extensive. There are tacos, tortas, huaraches (kind of like large tostadas), sopes (a sope is a small, thick stuffed tortilla) and gorditas. In addition, there are house specialties, "Best of Mexico" dinners, side dishes and regional drinks.
That all this food can come rolling out of that tiny cooking area speaks of kitchen wizardry. And authentic? You want authentic? The taco selections include not only grilled steak, pork and chicken, but also beef tongue, beef cheeks and tripe. I confess, I have never had a beef cheek taco.
A pollo en mole rojo, two chicken thighs with a red mole sauce, was tender and succulent, the mole piquant, not sweet like some. My tostadas were excellent, two hard tortillas topped with lettuce, tomato, shredded chicken, sour cream and cheese.
Another companion loved the torta Mexicana, a house specialty. A torta, of course, is a sandwich on a bun. The bread was good, and the stuffing of grilled steak, fried onions, avocado and jalapeño peppers made for great chemistry. Just enough grease seeped into the bun to make it irresistible.
Another companion had a huarache vegetariano, one of several vegetarian items on the menu. This was a large tortilla with beans, grilled broccoli, zucchini, carrots and onions. It was good, although lacking the excitement of the other three dishes.
All dinners are served with the mandatory Spanish rice and refried beans, and two large dishes of salsa, one very hot and one very mild. We used the salsas not only for dipping corn chips while waiting for our dinners, but to augment the entrées.
Also good was the agua de horchata - rice water with milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Very refreshing!
I want to return to try some of the other family specialties: Red pozole. Menudo (tripe soup). Pork rind gorditas in green sauce. Platillo Guadalajara (grilled steak, cactus, pico de gallo sauce and a grilled chili).
Taquería Guadalajara is a welcome addition to Madison's diverse restaurant scene. With very friendly service, modest prices and authentic Mexican home cooking, it should prosper not only as a neighborhood favorite, but an occasional destination for folks from other parts of town. Especially on warm summer nights, when relaxing on the patio could become a regular habit.