Declare this the “Year of the Taco.” When the likes of this simple envelope of edible portability is the content of a Smithsonian Magazine essay, the subject of interviews on NPR and the focus of two culinary histories, “Taco USA” by Gustavo Arellano and “Planet Taco” by University of Minnesota professor Jeffrey Pilcher (formerly of The Citadel), well, it’s time to give this dog its due.
Lucky for us the heritage of the Mitla Cafe, said to be the home of the taco (1937), is alive and well at Los Compadres.
This family-operated Mexican restaurant opened in the space once occupied by Just Chill in Park West. It is a narrow slip of a restaurant with limited home-style fare. No sombreros, no mariachis, just simple, basic Mexican-inspired foods.
Here you will find no goat, no menudo, no mole negro, epazote or adobos. But the corn and beans of the ancient Maya have found a home at Los Compadres, where tortillas are handmade, salsas are freshly prepared and daily specials allow the kitchen to feature local favorites such as shrimp in a Mexican- inspired coctel, as ceviche and in a “Diablo” entree. Specials could include homemade tamales and daily soups.
Breakfast is served all day ($5.99), and your huevos are accompanied by beans and rice with chorizo (sausage) and jamon (ham) available as proteins.
Complimentary chips and salsa are fresh, crisp and bright with the flavors of cilantro, lime, carrot bits and jalapeno.
Try the huarache ($5.75), a hand-formed tortilla that is crisped and layered with beans, cheese, salsa and shredded chicken. Its flavors marry well together, and it is a welcome change from nachos, which the restaurant also serves in a basic style ($4.29) and “compa” style ($6.99) with beans, meat, cheese, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole.
The portions are satisfying, not belly-busting mounds of rice and beans but nicely sized scoops of seasoned rice and soupy beans. Tortas ($6.49), Mexican sandwiches, are available for lunch, and a la carte and sides allow you to build a reasonably priced meal.
A chicken enchilada ($7.29) includes three plump tortillas filled with chicken, queso and crema along with the rice and beans (the beans are too soupy for my taste) and your choice of red or green sauce. I prefer the astringency of the green sauce and was not disappointed. The shrimp “al Diablo” lived up to its billing. A paste of fragrant chiles fired up the tender shrimp in more ways than one.
A neighbor’s fajitas platter ($8.99) and quesadillas ($6.49) both looked fresh and hot served with an assortment of salsas and warm tortillas.
Basic tacos ($1.75) are prepared with your choice of filling: chicken, chorizo, fish (tilapia at the time of our visit), pork, steak and tuna. Add two sides for $3 and you have an entree for less than $5.
A children’s menu offers simple Mexican dishes as well as grilled cheese and hot dogs.
Friends who do not care for Mexican cuisine can order a simple burger ($6.99) or grilled chicken breast salad ($7.99).
Service is friendly and collaborative with all of the staff taking orders, busing tables and delivering the food as the compact kitchen prepared them.
Los Compadres opened in February, and it has built up a regular following of families who are equally comfortable grabbing a seat at the bar as they are picking up bags and bags of carryout orders.
Mexican beers can be had for $3.25 and are Corona, Modelo, Tecate, Pacifico, and Victoria. The restaurant recently added margaritas to the menu in choices of lime, strawberry and pomegranate. Fortunately, none had the neon color of what passes for this drink in many bars.
Purists can order agua frescas of horchata (rice), Jamaica (hibiscus) and naranja (orange) for $2.49.
Desserts include ice cream for the kids, gelatin ($1.49), churros ($1.69) and homemade flan ($2.49).
We opted for the flan. We found it rich with egg and sweet with caramel. It hit all the right notes to dose the incendiary finish of the chiles.
Los Compadres is new to the neighborhood, but it is clear that it has quickly made friends.