Mexican Must-Haves and Have-Nots

This week’s category is Mexican street food. I’ve got some news and reviews.

Tuza is a newish taqueria in the Berkeley Park section of the Westside. The name confuses me. There is a tiny town in the Oaxaca state of Mexico named “Tuza,” which happens to mean “mole” – the critter, not the sauce. If you get the connection, let me know. Now, I’m a total Mexican street food snob, so take my comments with a grain of Margarita salt. My friends liked Tuza, but it disappointed me. I do give the restaurant credit for sustainable and local sourcing, but some flavors were flat and some were actually missing.

My usual test of a taqueria is the carnitas. I’ve all but given up on finding the real thing in Atlanta. In Mexico, carnitas are chunks of fatty pork simmered until they become crispy. It’s labor- intensive, so what you get instead, here and nearly everywhere else in Atlanta, is pulled roasted pork with no crunch. Intriguingly, Tuza’s carnitas, which were extremely dry, are allegedly anointed with a “salsa verde marmalade.” It was completely undetectable to me, so I asked for some straight up green sauce. They don’t have one. Huh? They do, the counter person told me, have chimichurri, the Argentinian pesto. I tried it. It was intensely flavorful – very garlicky – and too strong for the pork. It’s ordinarily served with the taco filled with cotija cheese and prime steak, the usual meat the sauce tops in Argentina.

Friends and I started our meal with chips and an intensely flavorful red salsa, house-made with fresh tomatoes, red onion, lime and some meek jalapenos. We also ordered the guacamole. It was fresh-made with Haas avocados, onions, and cilantro. It was too heavily seasoned and mashed for my taste. I like my guac chunky and I want to taste the avocados.

The best dish on the table was a taco made with a huge chunk of line-caught, tempura-fried fish that was covered with pickled slaw and drizzled with chipotle-spiked crema. To my personal consternation, friends also ordered (and loved) the menu’s “classic” taco – which is only classic because it was invented, according to legend, by the owner of Taco Bell. It’s the usual hard shell enclosing ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese. Go for it, if you, unlike me, can avoid memories of childhood intestinal problems caused by babysitters with grocery bags full of Old El Paso products. The one thing I definitely advise against ordering at Tuza is the quesadilla. I ordered the shrimp with a virtually un-melted cube of cheese; it was flavorless and dry as hell. Once again, I looked around for salsa and had to settle for the bottle of house-made hot sauce. It contains all the fire you can want, but it’s for spiking. It’s not a substitute for a salsa made with, say, roasted chiles.

Tuza has a full bar and is open for lunch and dinner. The building, formerly a storage facility, is small and the dining room is all about colorful, contrasting tile. Ditto for the serving plates. I wish I liked it better, but there are better choices nearby, like Bone Garden, Bartaco, and Taqueria del Sol.

Speaking of (Tex) Mexican: Ford Fry’s latest venture, Little Rey, may be open by the time you read this. Located at the corner of Cheshire Bridge and Piedmont, in the former Anchor Bar building, its specialty is Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken and tacos. (Yes, it’s a little annoying that the restaurant has taken half the name of the beloved El Rey del Taco on Buford Highway.) Fry, who also operates Superica, has a Tex-Mex cookbook coming out this month…The owners of the Tex-Mex Tin Lizzy and several other restaurants have opened Street Taco in the Marietta Square Market food hall. Yelpers have not been kind, complaining about the cost/portion ratio. Apparently, the tacos cost as much as they do at Tuza, $4, which also gets complaints in that department. Nonetheless, I’m anxious to try the newbie, because the menu promises genuine spit-roasted al pastor, my favorite after carnitas…I am, incidentally, totally addicted to the mulita at the new Tesoro, which I reviewed recently. The crispy “sandwich” of two cheese-coated and grilled tortillas filled with the goodies of your choosing is worth a drive from anywhere. The restaurant is located near the corner of Memorial and Moreland and remains open only mornings and afternoons.


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1523 Howell Mill Road