Last week, a few of us got together for some lunch at Taqueria El Rey Del Taco. It seems almost like clockwork: once every handful of months, an Atlanta food blogger heads over to Buford Highway to grab some of ERDT’s lauded tacos. Last week was my turn.
While the styling’s of El Rey are not as slick as say Taqueria Del Sol, the place is pretty fancy relative to the neighborhood. There are some flat screen panels, stone floors, and a bunch of mix and match objet d’arts. I don’t think this establishment would be out of place if found south of the border.
Of my dozen or so trips to El Rey Del Taco, the vast majority have taken place while most of ya’ll are probably in Neverland. The other handful of trips come during the lunch hour. I’ve never seen the place packed full; but, I do think it gets a little more of a rush during the post-bar hours of Friday and Saturday. Keep in mind, I’ve never visited during standard dinner hours on the weekend.
That I show up during lunch or post-2am is no accident. I go when I’m nearby and need some “recovery food,” or I go when the tortillas are fresh. The masa tortillas are some of my favorite in the city. They are airy yet still dense; meanwhile, the masa does an excellent job of holding in the juices from proteins (unlike flour tortillas). They are made fresh daily around the lunch hour, hence my affection for the afternoon hour at ERDT.
This past meal we started off with some fajita nachos. If you like messy, this dish has your name written all over it. Topped with a heaping amount of queso blanco, sliced onions, peppers, and thick cuts of chicken (though steak is an option), this is one of those “love it or leave it” dishes. The chicken was juicy and the vegetables maintained an al dente texture. Meanwhile, the queso blanco was gooey. Nothing spectacular, but certainly worth the $6.50 price tag.
Now we get to the hard part: the renowned tacos (available in regular or mini). As a general rule of thumb, I think people spend too much time focusing on the authenticity issue (regardless of the restaurant at hand). Just because something is authentic doesn’t guarantee quality. So while I’m not ready to say that these tacos are the greatest around, ERDT drifts closer to authentic AND quality than many of their neighbors. Backed by the aforementioned tortillas, the meat used is as high of quality as one would expect for a restaurant of this ilk. However, I think that El Rey doesn’t do anything special with the proteins. The lengua is lengua, the cabeza (cow’s cheek) tastes like cow’s cheek, and the barbacoa de chivo (goat meat) tastes like goat meat. There is little in the preparation that adds a distinct touch to the aforementioned (call that “under seasoned”). In addition, they have a habit of over cooking the meats.
Meanwhile, you’ll find a trio of limes, verde salsa, and smoked chipotle salsa at your table. These can be used to dress up the flavor of each taco a bit. Some find the chipotle salsa spicy, I’m not one of them. I appreciate that they forgo lettuce, tomato, and cheese as taco toppings. Again, those ingredients shouldn’t be summarily dismissed on site … but if you’re going to be authentic – be authentic.
There are plenty of other items to try and I’ll elaborate on them when I decide to post a full review of the place. For now, I consider this place chalk full of of potential, and I enjoy the food more than I do at Taqueria Del Sol. However, ERDT has been around long enough that they are pretty set in their ways. It’s unfortunate that they don’t do a better job with the proteins. Still, as Mexican cuisine goes, this is one of the better bets in the city.