The Original El Taco Restaurant Review, Virginia Highlands – Atlanta, GA

1186 N Highland Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30306

Restaurant Website
Restaurant Menu

So a friend of mine is on her way to the Original El Taco, so I am throwing up this old review from about a month ago. In fact, this was from 11.17.08, so that’s exactly one month! Spooky huh!  Enjoy the read everyone! As a quick aside, in my return, I tried the Mexican pizza (similar to a Tlayuda). It was solid and you should check it out if you go.

I was flying solo last Thursday, so I decided to drop in at the new “The Original El Taco” (yeah – that makes sense).  The name freakin’ bothers me.  Granted, it’s just your basic Spanglish bastardization – but can’t we do better than “The Original The Taco“???  Oh well – it doesn’t factor in the score.

Fifth group did a nice job of renovating the space.  The restaurant is divided into an enclosed patio and a main dining room.  It’s very open and spacious.  Apparently, some SCAD students painted the mural in the main room -very cool.  They have a “take out” window which sounds like a great idea – only it’s basically just a window cut into the wall on the side of the bar.  You are better off taking 3 steps around the corner.  Then at least you’re at the bar.  The “wheel of noise” is gimmicky and annoying.  It’s great for the kids early in the evening; after they split, it becomes stupid. By 8 o’clock, the kids had pretty much vanished. They were supplanted by a mix of middle age, under sexed couples, and a handful of late twenty-somethings who were trying to “be seen.”  I like the idea of giving away free food – but did anyone care for that stupid horn every 45 minutes?  By the end, it was crowded enough to be called busy, but not to the point where you were unable to move.

I walked in at 6:30 and found a good number of families eating.  I quickly turned and found a spot at the bar where I was greeted by Mr. Happy, the kind of guy you just know has some really twisted secret.  Be careful, he will try to act like he’s your best friend.  He asked if I had been in before – I lied and said yes.  More often than not, this will get them off your back fast.  Well, not this time!  He responded “I knew you looked familiar!”  Yikes on so many levels.  He asked what I wanted to drink. I replied: “A margarita frida on the rocks with salt!”  “But of course!” and then dove into a five minute dissertation as to why it was a fabulous choice.  When he was done, he abruptly stopped, spun, and walked away.  It would have been nice if he notified the bartenders of my order.  Okay, onto the important stuff.

The bartender who covered my area was very nice (I think her name was Kim but don’t hold me to that).  Regardless, she didn’t have a lot of work to do.  They margaritas were premixed and a disappointment.  I can understand them using the mix machines; but, I expected something more for my “specialty” margarita.  They were syrupy as hell and expensive.  Oh well, at least they came in tall glasses and were strong.

Onto the food – blah!  It’s a nice try, but also over priced and under delivered.  They use quality product – but overall – the execution was pretty off.  The tacos are all about $1.00 to pricey.  I have no idea why they didn’t just set a flat rate for the tacos.  They do use homemade tortillas, and those were very tasty; however, every single taco arrived lukewarm.  A lot of people have talked about the salsa bar that they have – this is a total misnomer.  There are a handful of salsa’s there (I think two or three), but most of it were other types of sauces and a variety of vegetables.  What is most disappointing about the salsa bar is that nothing on it is unique.  Every single item is used in at least one of their tacos.  Grrr!  What’s the point?

Okay so here’s what I had:
The fried chicken taco had sweet undertones due to the Mexican corn; but, I ordered two of these and both times – the chicken was soggy!  What a bummer.  The lime mayo was a nice touch and not over powering, but these pale in comparison to the fried chicken at Taqueria.

The crispy pork belly was an expected surprise.  By that I mean the chef is known for his love of pork belly, but it is an unusual choice nonetheless.  The flavors have the potential to turn this into a star.  Unfortunately, the ingredients were not well proportioned and it tasted just like it looked – messy.  The cabbage could have been fresher and it needed more mint and chilies.  The chipotle mayo did not resemble chipotle anything.  I’d just call it mayo.

The chorizo in the chorizo taco was over cooked.  The peppers and onions were flavorful – but how hard is it to screw that up?

The grilled chicken taco was the biggest failure.  It was advertised as grilled thighs, creamy chipotle mole, grilled sweet onion, and pickled Serrano peppers.   Sounds good – but I’m almost positive the chicken was boiled and not grilled.  To boot, they tasted like “barbeque chicken tacos” – tell me where it says “barbeque sauce” on the menu?  Major bomb there!

Bottom line – they are trying too hard to make this an experience and not hard enough to deliver top notch food.  The gimmicky salsa bar, wheel of noise, and take out window are all proof of that.  It’s just another “if you are in the ‘hood” sort of spot.  If you have any inclination to drive, don’t go her.   You’ll be much better served at TDS on Cheshire or any number of spots on Buford.  Not a place I would ever crave!

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