Food’s a’ight, service is tight
Moms are the greatest ladies in the world. Who else can love, feed and clothe you and still excel at the pseudo-Olympic sports of nagging, cajoling and the 300-meter guilt trip? Moms even possess the spooky power to locate a can of beer or a dirty gym sock under a bed without entering the room. Having lunch at Northeast Heights staple Taco Sal brought me back to these shinier, happier times. I met bustling servers Cynthia Abeyta and Kaye Montoya during the restaurant's lunch rush. Despite the profusion of bodies in chairs, Kaye was an expert at making everyone feel like they were at her home. I was seated with chips and salsa, and my ice tea arrived at high speed.
Taco Sal has been around since 1960 under the helm of Eve Randall. This year it changed hands to Mike and Wayne Jones. I asked my servers how things had changed with new owners, and they explained that a redecoration is in the works, perking up the atmosphere with touches like fresh flowers on the tables.
“The salsa is chunkier, too,” Kaye said.
A basket of greasy chips weren’t particularly impressive, but the green chile salsa was nice and hot. The water glass before me was big enough to require maybe one drink refill to last through lunch, but instead of using this as an excuse to disappear for an hour, Kaye was my constant buddy throughout my visit.
“The guacamole is really good,” she said. “It’s fresh, and on special today for $3.”
She brought it out in record time, and it was indeed noteworthy. The guacamole was very fresh, with the meaty taste of perfectly ripe avocados.
I placed my lunch order for the "No. 4" combination plate ($7.15) with a beef taco, cheese enchilada and a relleno, and the house special, something called a chilaca ($6.75).
Looking around, it dawned on me that the inside of this place resembles a cafeteria at an alternative school. Even so, Kaye and Cynthia were carrying on like it was a comedy club, bouncing jokes back and forth.
“How you doin’ over here, baby?” she asked, patting my arm.
She had my table piled with steaming-hot food one minute later. The chilaca was like a full-plate Frito pie—slightly soggy, with fried tortilla strips, tons of hot, crumbly beef, lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese, all doused in red chile. The chile was tasty but barely registered on the Scoville scale. It could have been hotter. (Then again, I could actually taste the subtle, earthy flavor of the chile pods for a change.)
The enchilada was fat enough, and the relleno was a touch heavy on the batter but mercifully seed-free. The taco had merit—but unfortunately, it also had a very greasy shell. I was glad to see the “We Only Use Vegetable Oil” disclaimer on the menu, because I’d like to keep my ticker going for a few more years.
The rest of the menu is inexpensive, standard New Mexican fare. Most dishes come with a choice of rice, beans or potatoes—the moist, tomato-rich rice I was served was quite good. Their green chile is excellent, too, and it comes vegetarian, hot, or super hot, the latter two with ground beef. The sopaipillas were soft, salty pillows, a palate cleanser after all that meat, chile and cheese. Overall, the food was OK, but the service was awesome.
After I finished, I chatted with Kaye a bit and revealed my secret identity (I don’t have a bat signal yet, but I’m looking into it) as a restaurant reviewer. She looked every which way and whispered, “Am I supposed to be talking to you?”
She told me I had unwittingly helped her win a guacamole-selling contest with Cynthia, and that they were scrapping it out over a cash prize.
Kaye chuckled and cast a motherly glance over at Cynthia. "We fight sometimes.”