2018 San Pedro
(a block north of Woodlawn)
I started going to Las Salsas not long after it opened. It was conveniently located, just a few blocks down the avenue from my house. The first time I tried it, I thought it was pretty good. The next time, not so much. The time after that, pretty good again. The next time, it was back to being not so good. Every time I ate there was like a voyage of discovery: would the chips be light and crisp, or stale and chewy? Would the seasoning be artful and delicate, or heavy-handed and unpleasant? Would the food be too hot, too cold, or just right?
In time, I stopped going. It was just too lousy too often. But now, after maybe seven or eight years, my friend Rick and I decided to give it another try.
Wish I'd stayed home.
Inside, not much had changed. It's got two large dining areas, each with room for about 40 people. They've replaced the mix of tile-topped and plastic tables for some with a bamboo veneer, nicely painted in primary colours, and all the chairs now match. The walls are a light yellow with occasional patches of trompe-l'oeil broken-stucco design, which despite being somewhat dated is not unpleasant. A few standard paintings of pretty Mexican village scenes compete with what look like reprints of old magazine ads rough-framed in cypress. The train track still runs around room just below the ceiling, but there was no train. (Years ago, often as not, the train would be derailed at one turning or another; maybe they just got tired of climbing up on a stool to fix it.) The dining area is clean and bright, though I wouldn't want to sit at a table by the window in the afternoon sun.
The staff greeted us warmly when we came in, and the waitress was with us quickly as we chose our seats in the near-empty restaurant, giving us menus and taking our drink orders. We decided quickly, and then bided our time awaiting her return until Rick wondered out loud if they were having to grow coffee beans in the back. When the coffee arrived, it was lukewarm and even weaker than I like it — and I don't care for strong, acidic coffee.
|Last city inspection: April 2011|
We each ordered our usuals: beef fajita and picadillo tacos, on flour, for Rick; chilaquiles and machacado tacos, on corn, for me.
My first bite of my chilaquile taco was disappointing: it seemed flavourless, almost unpleasant. I decided, though, after a few more tastes, that the problem was with the corn tortilla. Home-made, it may have been, but it lacks the flavour that a year of preferring corn to flour has taught me can be infused into a tortilla. The filling, though, was nicely made, and plentiful. The appropriate amount of time had been taken to sauté the vegetables and fry up the chilaquiles — the little strips of corn tortilla that give the dish its name — which, I might mention, were of an appropriate size. (Ordinarily I wouldn't even bother to say this, but recent experience has shown me that not every greasy-cuchara cook knows how big they should be.) The addition of a little red salsa moved them up the scale of quality, and if I were basing the entire review on this one dish, I'd give it four chili peppers. Three and a half, with the tortilla.
Sadly, though, the chilaquiles con huevo in my taco were the high point of the meal. The machacado taco was a disappointing version of the dish, machacado con huevo, that I have come to appreciate as much as chilaquiles. It was served in an equally bland corn tortilla, and while it was cooked properly, it had only a suggestion of the dried meat that gives the dish its name. Still, it would have deserved a rating, independent of all else, of three chili peppers, as overall it had good flavour, and fairly good texture.
Rick's tacos bring the ratings back down to merely average. His flour tortillas were more flavourful than my corn tortillas, but that's just because flour tortillas are intrinsically tastier than corn tortillas. These are run-of-the-molina tortillas. In the universe of flour tortillas, these rank right in the middle, below HEB and above Mission. The picadillo was seasoned, but artlessly, and was not so much moist as greasy. The fajita meat was barely seasoned, and overcooked, perhaps because the slices were cut too thick in the first place to cook through properly.
I thought the prices at Las Salsas would be better than they are. While coffee service, at $1.50, was reasonable, I thought the taco prices were well above where they should be. Small change, perhaps, but even putting aside the question of quality, $2.25 is about 30¢ too much for machacado, and $1.95 is about 20¢ too much for chilaquiles. The overall bill was about a buck more than it should have been. It becomes a question of where to draw the line. If the food had been better, I might not have minded the pricing excesses. But as it is, I do.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go take a Tums.