Taqueria Del Pueblo
57 Highland Street, Worcester
(To-go menu available at their Worcester Public Market location)
First impressions are often what sticks to a place. Don’t let that happen at the Taqueria; we arrived on a dark rainy evening and, after parking the car, ran up to the door to find it locked tight. Peering in through the dark glass I could see people, so I knew they were open for business. Finally, a waiter appeared and motioned us to the back door. A sign near the door would have made things easier.
On entering, though, all that drama instantly vanished. The place was rocking to Charly Blacks’ Party Animal as we merged into their week-night crowd. Murals of bold voodoo themes in vibrant colors have displaced the heroic Greek statuary of the room’s prior incarnations. Not quite banished, the gods are now relegated to the shadows.
Taqueria Del Pueblo’s menu is conveniently compact; appetizers of quesadillas, nachos, frijole dip and elote; entrées of tacos (sold by the each), fajitas, tortas and burritos. Vegetarians will find niches within all this, but the primary focus is meat. Vegans: enjoy your basket of crunchy chips and salsa, from there the ride gets a bit bumpy.
If the food menu tends basic, their margaritas show inventive flair. Having attended enough restaurant expos, I’ve become a bit jaded when I see phrases like ‘our own homemade syrups’. But I didn’t let that stop me from ordering the Toxica margarita.
La Toxica came in a wide margarita glass garnished with a few slices of fresh jalapeno peppers, crisp and green. This was not glass of slush, there was just enough crushed ice to keep things chill and when I took my first sip I knew that this would be the best margarita I’d ever had; the essence of hot peppers blended with the lush sweetness of Cointreau liquor and a fresh background note of lime. Whoever blended these ingredients is master at flavor balance. I loved the delicious burn on the tongue after each sip.
We moved straight to our entrée’s: my friend had chosen their featured burrito, the Clasico. It was layered with guacamole, sour cream, molten white cheese, black beans and rice and wrapped in a large flour tortilla. He ordered his with carne asada, strips of grilled beef steak that were tender and flavorful. Opting for ‘medium-level spiciness’, they served the burrito with a cup green pepper sauce on the side. Medium proved to be tepidly low on the Scoville scale, so he made full use of the extra sauce.
I went with one of the Taqueria’s tortas; a grilled sandwich of softened onions, a schmear of mayonnaise, bits of cilantro and plenty of stretchy mozzarella cheese. I ordered mine with al pastor; richly seasoned marinated pork.
On paper, the torta appealed to me as a Mexican-styled panini. What made it exceptional was the bread; a bolillo they’d sliced open and flattened; soft inside and grilled to a crusty golden-brown exterior. The portion size was perfect, and flavors melded into delicious unity. I’d love to get some of that bread for my own panini press.
Having bypassed appetizers, we decided to share one of Taqueria’s Caramel Chocolate Lava Cakes. Again, I was doubtful but willing to take the risk that this wasn’t some industrially produced back-of-the-freezer commodity. Again, I was pleasantly surprised.
Whereas our sandwiches had been served on austere white plates with no attractive garnish, someone in the kitchen went baroque with dessert presentation. At the center stood a cylindrical cake of warm fudgy-dense dark chocolate topped with crushed nuts and a dab of whipped cream. On either side of it, grids of thick caramel sauce had been piped onto the dish. A couple chocolate covered strawberries stood opposite a floret of fresh strawberry slices.
Anywhere else, this delicious dessert would have cost triple what the Taqueria del Pueblo charged for it. In fact, located at the edge of the WPI campus, it’s a place where students meet for a casual meal at very reasonable prices while having fun in a friendly space.
It’s time for the rest of Worcester to discover the Taqueria.