El Taco Tote
Mexican meat and taters
By Jennifer Wohletz
Papota? What the crap is that? Me being the Google intellectual that I am, I decided to do a bit of homework after a more than filling repast at El Taco Tote, the Mexican grill with the deelish salsa bar. I typed it in, expecting to get an easy answer. Nope. Instead I got webpages in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, none of which provided me with a literal translation. But I wasn’t done yet. There were many other search engines to choose from, and this was now my mission in life.
My lunch was fantastically, fabulously cheap, and it couldn’t have been more filling if somebody emptied a chuckwagon into my gut. I’ll walk you through it. First, you step through the door, greeted by a huge wall menu decorated with meat grilled eight ways from Sunday. The specific categories are tacos, quesadillas, combos, “by the pound” and sides. The taco choices include carnivorous delights like fajita beef, top sirloin, chicken or pork adobada, fried fish and shrimp.
It’s all smooth sailing from here, and the combinations take pretty much all of the guesswork out of feeding yourself. The “Family Style” meal is a pound of your choice of grilled meat, 12 homemade corn or flour tortillas, four orders each of rice and charro beans and four 20 oz. drinks (plus salsa bar) for $26.39. The “Platter for Two” is a half pound of meat, a side of guacamole, beans, rice, six tortillas and two drinks for $13.59. Wow, really? But how cheap is too cheap, as far as quality is concerned?
As I am only one, albeit plump, girl (would you trust a skinny reviewer?), I ordered the “Taco Tote Pack,” which consisted of two tacos filled with top sirloin and chicken, a papota and a drink ($6.99).
Now, the papota is listed on the menu as being “better than a baked potato” after every time it’s mentioned. I took my tray and proceeded to the dining room, through a mêlee of kids, fajita smoke and purple-shirted employees that came in and out of the open-air kitchen area like bees from a hive.
My papota came as a searing hot bundle of foil, which I was delighted to see contained a fat baked potato with butter. That was predictable, but it was baked to the consistency of mealy fluff on the inside, but with a tight, well-scrubbed skin. I don’t know if it was better than a baked potato, but it was certainly a good one. Why do they call it a papota?
The meat was tender, moist and not overly fatty, and the tortillas were precious-rare-perfect with crisp spots on the outside and chewy, salty goodness all around.
The complimentary salsa and condiment bar is the neverending story of pickled, roasted and crisp, and half a dozen fresh salsas to boot. After a trip to the hot box for chips, I tried the guacamole salsa—like a thin, hot cilantro guac; the salsa verde—thin, bright green and tangy; the salsa Cambray—fresh tomato and green chile; and the salsa roja—flecks of roast in a thick, hot tomato sauce. The pico de gallo was medium-hot, chunky, and beautifully bright and fragrant.
The chip-sticking dips were side by side with cold, sliced cucumbers, shredded lettuce, radishes, lime wedges, cilantro, chopped onions and chiles toreados. These jalapeños were lightly roasted, coupled with thick onion slices and bathed in a sweet, salty brown sauce. They were just tender enough to have a bit of bite.
I was stuffed. And armed with a heavy to-go box. And on the way out I got to watch the tortilla chefs put the dough disks on the grill, and see them puff up like little parachute pants. But I was haunted by the papota.
So many hours later, still full of meat and angst, I finally managed to ask.com the definition of papota. It translates to “cheek.” Whew, and I was thinking it was something naughty.
El Taco Tote is the “it” restaurant for inexpensive, quality Mexican grilled treats. My papotas were pleased.
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