Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Madison's Best Restaurant You've Never Visited

Remember the last time you walked past a restaurant kitchen? Edith Piaf was barely audible over the din of the line, as the grill man called out that the ch√Ęteaubriand would be ready in "deux minutes." Remember how, after service, the bereted cooks would head out the back door, with knife rolls in their left hands, and volumes by Sartre or films by Godard in their right?

Yeah, neither do I.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, and it's little secret that in this country, hard-working Mexicans and Latinos have become largely responsible for the success of the traditionally French professional kitchen. Meanwhile, their food has become an omnipresent US staple, with a vaguely "Mexican" restaurant on every corner and certain unnamed burrito vending corporations achieving market capitalizations of over three billion dollars.

The first problem with this development is that the vast majority of these nacho slingers produce food for norteamericano palates that doesn't remotely resemble that of their supposed country of origin. The second, more grievous sin is that the food they do produce generally sucks.

So on a day when you're looking to pay your culinary respects to a country that's done so much for ours, where's a befuddled Madisonian gringo to turn?

Why, Taqueria Guadalajara, of course. Located at 1033 South Park Street, the main dining room of this inconspicuous hole-in-the-wall sits about twelve people, and that's including the counter. But this is OK. There's a patio in back, and though you'll practically have to walk through the tiny kitchen to get there, it's well worth it. The food here is absolutely outstanding.

There are, naturally, tacos at this taqueria, and they also happen to be the best in town. Proteins range from the obligatory grilled pork and steak, both of which are nice, to the decidedly optional beef tongue and cheek, both of which are excellent. Yes, tripe lovers, that's available, too, in your taco or your menudo. Most surprising is the almost revelatory chicken. It's incredibly tender, perfectly moist, and wonderfully seasoned, to the point that even with such a strong menu, I can't visit without ordering at least one. It's a freaking chicken taco, and yes, it is that good. It needn't be mentioned that the tortillas are house-made and delicious, but it does bear stressing that the tacos sell for around a measly two dollars each.

Of course, Guadalajara offers other, non-taco choices as well, including sopes, tortas, and huaraches and larger plates like a chicken mole. They're all good, and they're all ridiculously cheap for the quality. I could go on about how great the cooking is, about the wonderfully authentic atmosphere, or about the consistently friendly service, but I'll save that for an imminent (and presumably glowing) full review. After all, I foresee many a summer afternoon of scrupulous "research" on that patio in my near future.

For now, just head to Taqueria Guadalajara, grab an horchata and a few criminally cheap bites, and celebrate this Cinco de Mayo by thanking Mexico for all of the great food and cooks.


CD said...

How is their Veggie fare (if any?)

Brian said...

Sorry for my woefully late reply. Life outside the interwebs has reared its ugly head, and I've sadly left the site in a state of neglect.

Their vegetarian options are very limited. One of the standouts (and the only vegetarian dish I've eaten there personally) is the vegetarian huarache.

I enjoyed it well enough, though it didn't have the same magic as the more traditional meat offerings, and most vegetarians I've asked have liked it, too. One of my close vegetarian threads really disliked it, though, and thought it seemed like an afterthought.

In short, I wouldn't recommend Guadalajara as a great vegetarian spot, but it has a few good options that should keep the veggies contented while the rest of the table chows down on tripe and tongue.

Brian said...


I have a quick question about your blog, do you think you could e-mail me?