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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Searching for Great Tacos?

Downhome Mexican at Taqueria Arandas

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The West Side taqueria scene can be a bit daunting. Drive away from the lake on National, Mitchell or Lincoln in search of chili peppers and cerveza and you’re met with a venerable smorgasbord of taco trucks, corner carne-slingers and tucked-away neighborhood joints. There’s more than you could find in a lifetime of Yelp searches because many simply aren’t online. 

The blink-and-miss-it Taqueria Arandas looks like just another such unassuming spot, but the capitalist maxim of competition breeding quality can be felt as soon as you take one bite of a warm, oily tortilla chip bathed in their creamy jalapeño sauce. Here, the three standard table salsas are solid, but it’s that green one with the just-right kick, velvety consistency and certain mystique (is that avocado in there?) that left us asking for ingredients (unsuccessfully).     

Such a pre-meal touch assured that even a misorder could be righted. Not that it was much of an issue. Bistec ranchero ($8.49) yielded thin, tender, juicy slices of steak in a tasty, salty red sauce. The Milanesa de Pollo ($9.50) came in a massive light brown hunk that the butcher probably measured in square footage. The slab of breaded chicken was, miraculously, not dried out, and acted as a sauce-less blank slate, perfect for playing alchemist with the salsas and accompanying tortillas. Bell peppers instead of poblanos on the rajas gordita ($2.69) initially seemed a sad, spice-less choice, but the sandwich-like construction, surefire griddling job, and heavy-handed generosity with the queso and cilantro left a satisfyingly melty product greater than the sum of the parts. Unless you’re a vegetarian, it’s impossible for chorizo not to be good, but it was the tacos al pastor ($1.59 each) that actually showed more porky subtlety.     

Our waitress was happy to oblige our incessant desire for more chips and salsa; the service is best described as downhome casual with employees relaxing, taking breaks to chat and pump money into the jukebox. This, along with extra-low ceilings and dark, rough wood paneling lend a basement vibe. But the lacquered inlays about the tables and chairs and the brightly painted scenes of pastoral Mexico help hit a cantina note even in wintry Milwaukee. Regulars stop by for pickup orders and a table-to-table flower salesman works the room. So, it’s at once a cozy and soulful spot—a perfect place to eat yourself into spicy, carb-happy fatigue. In other words, here’s another hidden Mexican gem that makes it worth skipping the old go-to in favor of branching out, exploring and beginning to ponder how much else you might be missing.

 

Taqueria Arandas

1531 W. Lincoln Ave.

414-384-1563

$-$$

Handicap access: Yes