Monday, December 29, 2014

Latin flavors abound on E. Grand., Part 1.

Visits to Tasty Tacos, Los Laureles, La Tapatia, Tacos Villanueva.

UPDATED Thursday, January 15, 2015

The past few decades have seen phenomenal growth in the number Latin American businesses in the vicinity of Grand Ave. between E. 14th and 18th Streets. Clothiers, salons, grocers, liquors, launderers, insurers, bakeries, and at the forefront of this growth, brick-and-mortar restaurants and taco trucks.

Historically two restaurants dominated the neighborhood scene for the latter half of the last century: Tasty Tacos at 1420 E. Grand and Raul's at 1541 E. Grand. Both predate the relatively recent influx of Latin American immigrants; each were founded in the early sixties. Raul's closed its doors in 2005, reopening five years later in West Des Moines.

Tasty Tacos has gone on to become a highly successful chain, with six locations throughout the metro. Though many people poo-poo Tasty Tacos for its highly Americanized fare, the restaurant still claims a loyal following. Some days, IMHO, nothing is as satisfying as a puffy flour taco with plentiful squirts of the house salsa, a cheese-laded enchilada, or a chili-topped burrito [see blog post].

About the same time as Raul's closing, Los Laureles opened its doors across the street at 1518 E. Grand. For generations of people who grew up associating Mexican food with lightly-spiced fare and mounds of 'yellow' cheese, Los Laureles with its from-the-heart-of-Mexico cuisine was a revelation. It was Los Laureles that introduced many to a more authentic taco: a simple construct of steamed corn tortillas topped with a choice of exotic meats, sprinkled with cilantro and chopped onion, plus lime and radish for garnish. A choice of spicy red and green salsas further enhanced this bold, new experience.

From left: Los Laureles; a quartet of meats, from top left clockwise, pastor (pork), pollo (chicken), chorizo (sausage), and asada (beef).

Chips and salsa at Los Laureles: A dish best shared with friends… or the moderately tolerable. Plus a chorizo torta and chicken nachos.

Over time the neighborhood blossomed with Mexican grocers such as Tienda Mexicana at 1524 E. Grand, La Favorita at 1700 E. Grand, and the biggest and highly successful, La Tapatia at 1440 Des Moines. Offering packaged goods, produce, and meats, La Tapatia also sells a variety of prepared items from the meat counter, pastries and breads, and snack items such as frutas (fruit cups) and my favorite, elote con mayonesa (corn-on-the-cob with mayonnaise, grated cheese and chile). On occasion a taco truck or food stand will operate out in the parking lot. One such visit yielded a tasty bacon-wrapped hot dog with beans, onions, mayo, ketchup, mustard, and salsa verde. As close to a Sonoran Dog [see blog post] as I've ever eaten in these parts.

As more authentic, and not-so-authentic, Latin American restaurants started to proliferate around the Metro, taco trucks, also known as taco movils, soon populated the landscape. On any given afternoon in warmer months its not uncommon to find a trio of trucks operating on E. Grand.

The most successful of the taco trucks, Tacos Villanueva, operates a fleet from a variety of locations around Des Moines including a spot at 1531 E. Grand. Its not uncommon to find a dozen or more patrons occupying the picnic tables dotted around Tacos Villanueva's truck. The tacos offered there are excellent along with the ubiquitous selection of red and green salsas. Along with radish and lime, grilled onion and jalapeƱo is a bonus.

From left, asada, al pastor, and chorizo tacos from Tacos Villanueva.

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