Restaurant Review: El Tequileño Mexican Kitchen + Taqueria
Much like the Morse Road installation of Saraga International Grocery, the newish Cleveland Avenue Saraga also serves as a small business incubator. Within both grocery stores is a mini food-court that features independent operations serving up a variety of treats. In the case of the newbie, in addition to ice cream and a bakery, you’ll also find a stop called El Tequileño Mexican Kitchen & Taqueria. As the name suggests, it offers up Mexican food generally and tacos in particular.
Service-style, we’re looking at a familiar counter service model. But in taking it all in, the place is more reminiscent of a taco truck than something like a Taco Bell. After all, Columbus taco trucks are well-loved for their authentic menus, and El Tequileño follows in that tradition. It has a bigger kitchen, though, and it’s equipped with food-court seating. So, unlike the mobile food scene, the weather is never going to be an issue at a Saraga spot.
You can choose from a wide selection of meats to fill your tacos. The paper menu at the counter helpfully includes a little picture of each animal you might consume: pig, cow, goat and chicken, alongside the Spanish term, and then an English translation. The range extends from familiar pollo/chicken to more niche tastes with terms that translate to pork stomach and tongue.*
Tacos are built on a foundation of dainty tortillas that are still miraculously pliable for folding. The starter version ($2.49) is a pretty straight forward meat-and-tortilla deal.
More satisfying, though, is the busier Taqueso ($2.75), which is a taco enhanced with shredded cheese, soft avocado, diced onions, cilantro, a few razor-thin radish slices, and a lime wedge. It’s a fantastic combination for the tender house pork, as well as the steak which arrived in finely-chopped, grill-seasoned nubbins.
Surprisingly, something along the lines of the Chimichanga ($5.99) is actually less impressive than the taco options. Normally something fried would automatically ensure more fun, right? But it ended up kinda bland. This probably has something to do with the (personal) choice for chicken inside of it. There’s plenty of it, and the poultry has good chicken-y texture, but not a lot of flavor. Even with a dripping, drenching melted cheese sauce, it needs a little more umph, or perhaps a different meat filling choice. An order does come with some nice, runny refried beans, as well as orange rice. That adds variety. All the same, it still manages to end up hitting just one note.
So instead, maybe an old fashioned Quesadilla ($5.99)? It’s not much to look at, but it’s a familiar and likable vehicle for the slow-cooked pork (carnitas), and it comes with the rice and beans too.
Beyond the straightforward items, the menu also offers platters such as the Hugo Especial ($11.99). It’s a winning combination of savory grilled chicken and steak, with drippy cheese sauce, tortillas, rice and beans. The Hugo lets you choose your own adventure and build your own masterpiece.
And of course, once you’ve finished up the meal, there’s lots more to explore at Saraga Market itself. You’ll find it at 3353 Cleveland Ave.
*The tongue item is referred to as “lengua.” Even without the translation, you might see common ground with “lingual,” as in “bilingual” – someone who speaks two tongues. Culinary language studies can be sort of cool. And the term “language” itself also comes from that same Latin root (lingua) for tongue.
All photos by Susan Post