Lupe Taqueria Restaurant Review – Midtown, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions]

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Ah Riccardo and my dear sweet Lupe Taqueria.  Situated right on Juniper Street in Midtown, I wanted so badly to enjoy your company, to appreciate your culinary statement, and your bubbling atmosphere.  Alas, it was not to be.  What you gave me was a failure of Titanic proportions.  In the blink of an eye you went from a place with so much promise to a dark sea struggling to provide me with the life jacket I so desperately needed.  The waters were murky, and that’s being more than generous.

Before I head on down this path of destruction, let us take a quick detour to clarify something for those of you who are not familiar with this blog.  First impressions should be considered for what they are.  It is absolutely impossible to consider a single meal, and particularly one that takes place inside of a restaurant’s IPO week, and proclaim the establishment a failure with any degree of certainty.  However, certain elements of the meal can hint at what is to come.

I am often called to task for my propensity to hold an establishment’s feet to the fire no matter how long they are open.  I’m particularly less forgiving in instances where the owner is an established restaurateur.

In that spirit, if people are willing to proclaim Antico as God’s gift to Atlanta’s pizza scene inside of one slice, then we have to be willing to consider all establishments against some reasonably similar criteria.  Put it this way, for every Matt Ryan, there are many more Ryan Leafs.  Unless some serious soul searching takes place, Lupe Taqueria will be headed to the dead pool faster than you can say “guacamole.”

A few months ago, proprietor Riccardo Ullio decided to axe Cuerno from his classroom lineup.  The Spanish eatery was not working, perhaps in part because it just wasn’t that good.  In Cuerno’s place, we now have Lupe, a Mexican restaurant that isn’t as far a stretch from it’s deceased predecessor as one might think.  The kitchen is helmed by Darbelio Palma, a longtime Ullio employee and Mexican national.

Rumor has it that Ullio brought in a design team to rework the space.  Though the space is quite nice for what it is, that appears to be a bit of an overstatement.  Though my last visit to Cuerno was well before I started really paying attention to this stuff, I’m pretty sure the room is almost identical.  The most notable alteration is the absence of the prodigious bull statue that dominated the restaurant’s entranceway.  Though I may be incorrect, I’m nearly certain that the iron chairs with comfortable butt holders and the rather nice wood tables are holdovers.

Still, the L-shaped room gives off an intimate, yet lively vibe in the glow of the quasi-exposed kitchen.  Dimly lit on the whole, the small bar that lines the back wall seems like a great place to sit and chat if that’s your thang.  The high ceilings and head-to-toe windows seem to balance out the darkness as well as one could expect.

Though it’s always been a particularly dark space (which accounts for the lack of pictures here), and that in and of itself may be a deterrent for a number of wide-eyed diners, it’s nicely done and the vibe seems conducive to an enjoyable evening.  The music during our one trip was Mexican flavored, but not kitschy or cheesy.

Walking in on this particular night, we found the room approximately half-full.  A number of early-thirties daters were out and about as well as some more establish couples.  Meanwhile, a vibrant group of young ladies took over a table and seemed to be in the throws of a very enjoyable evening.

Seated promptly, our server showed up within a minute or two in order to provide the love and attention you hope to get in an establishment such as this.  She proceeded to set down a small but reasonable portion of tortilla chips and a cup of salsa and these gratis samplings were refilled with tactile precision.

This ample level of attention continued throughout the night.  Though it was accompanied by a pleasant disposition, service was full of somewhat nagging shortcomings.  Orders were mixed up, plates were dropped off at the wrong spots, glasses were left unfilled for quite a bit, and most importantly, key ingredients were left out.  Whether the last point is truly the fault of the server is a inconsequential.  When you order a side of fried onions and jalapeños, and there aren’t any jalapeños on the plate – you have a problem.  Granted, this is a minor error … but with all the screw ups of the evening, this didn’t help their cause.  Yes, we know it’s week one – but remember – Ullio runs three other establishments.

Anywho, the menu includes some hints of traditional Mexican fare that are done up in a way so as to not alienate the palates of your everyday American.  The appetizer section includes a few familiar options including, but not limited to, guacamole, queso fundido con chorizo, and ceviche.

It just so happened that we tried all three of those on this particular evening.  The guacamole sampler, one part pineapple and mint, one part mango and poblano, and one part traditional, was easily the best item of the night.  Unfortunately, this is simply due to its absence of major faults.  As guacamole goes, nothing much to write home about.  The avocados were mashed so as to give these dips a creamed base.  While that’s not necessarily my ideal choice, I can’t say I hated them.  The mango/poblano had an odd flavor profile that I’m still trying to wrap my head around.  It probably had something to do with the spoiled poblanos they were using.  While the mint and pineapple worked well with one and other – just not against the texture or the taste of the avocado based dip.

The vegetable ceviche was beyond bland and deserves no further comment.  However, the imitation club crackers that came with it were a poor choice.  Even from a visual perspective, it made the plating look cheap.

Last up in the appetizers section was the queso fundido.  Served with a side of house made tortillas, an appropriately thick serving of cheese was infused with nice bits of chorizo.  Unfortunately, the kick I was longing for was absent and in its stead, I was left with melted goodness against a resilient bite of Mexican ground pork.  As it’s pretty hard to make bad queso fundido, they won’t win any awards for this.  As mentioned, and as any good Mexican taqueria should, Lupe makes their tortillas onsite.  Though they were as bland as the Yuma desert is dry, at least they are trying.  I found using the tortilla chips to be the superior alternative as the flavor was a little more prevalent.

As passable as the apps were, the rest of the meal was downright disgusting.  There’s no need to beat a meal to death, but let’s just cover a few notations before getting out of here.

You have roughly nine taco plates, three types of quesadillas, and five “platos” available to you.  Almost all of them come with an accompaniment of rice and refried beans.  Those sides tasted no better than Old El Paso’s finest can.  It didn’t help that like everything else, the sides were cold and overcooked (how the hell do you pull that one off?).

The taco plates, which you can mix and match, come three to an order.  I had the chance to choke down a Mixto taco.  The ribeye was rubbery, the tortillas cold, the Chihuahua cheese non-discernable, and the rest of it just too confused and meek to make it anything other than a bad suggestion.

An order of the Costillas con Frijoles Negros (braised short ribs) also found its way onto my plate.  You can call it braised, I call it “dumped into a bucket and then scooped onto the plate.”  The beef was so over cooked that I had to gnaw at it just to get a bite.  Meanwhile, the black beans held no flavor and I was left wondering what I was supposed to say about the dish.

Last, but most certainly not least, was the single worst Chile Relleno ever to find its way into my mouth.  Though my initial bite went down, I can assure you it would have been hastily ejected from my jaws had I not been so concerned that anything else in my stomach might follow.  In the brief moments it spent on my tongue and in my mouth, here’s what I got:  Whatever batter/casing/or whatever the hell it was coating the pepper … it peeled off like a wet rag and tasted just about the same.  The pepper itself was actually spicy, but obviously spoiled.  The incorporated queso de sincho, a Venezuelan cheese, was icktastic.  To elaborate, it’s a white cheese and should be sweet to the tongue. SEE UPDATE The sampling I had tasted an awful lot like a Stilton.  Stilton, which hails from ENGLAND, can be quite good if you don’t mind a blue cheese.  In this case, the reminiscing made me think it was spoiled.  Whatever it was – avoid at all cost until a much braver soul tries to down a bite.

The drinks deserve some positive attention, but I’m too worn out of this lambasting. I will say that I was pleased with the margaritas that I tried – all were heavy on the the liquor and showed the careful hand of a capable bartender.

For two taco plates, two entrées, and three appetizers, a food bill nearing $80 demands a much stronger performance.  All in, we spent about $150 for four people … I’ll leave you to soak that in.

There is a difference between a first impression and a complete review.  Does this one solitary meal mean that Lupe is doomed or even that this was par for the course? No.  However, given the drastic similarities to its predecessor, the horribly poor sourcing of ingredients, the weak execution, AND the worst quality control I’ve seen in a restaurant of this caliber in a long time … well … the future doesn’t look so bright.

UPDATE & CORRECTION (10.26.09): At the time of our visit, the listed cheese for the poblano was sincho.  This is not the same as queso cincho, and hopefully that typo on the menu is fixed.  I should have been smart enough to realize the spelling error once I took a bite, but I straight up missed that.  In any event, here’s the deal with queso cincho.  The cheese is formed into large round molds and then pressed with a belt (cincho being belt in Spanish).  It hails from the Southern area of Mexico.  The parallels I drew to Stilton weren’t too far off.  Cincho is an aged cheese with a pronounced flavor and a very strong “nose.”  When melted, it maintains a soft, yet chewy texture and explodes with a pungent flavor.  If you like blue cheese, this is all you – if you don’t, keep moving.  If you expect the bite to be sweet and it comes back anything but – it means the menu needs to be re-typed.

Lupe Taqueria Restaurant Address & Information

905 Juniper St NE, Atlanta, GA 30309 // 678.904.4584 // Lupe website // Lupe menu (pdf)
Lupe Taqueria on Urbanspoon

23 comments Write a comment

  1. unnecessarily harsh review. I’ve spent one night at the bar and another night for dinner and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I appreciate the authentic food and will definitely be returning! You come across more as an angry kid stomping around his room than a foodiebuddha offering constructive criticism.

    • You are welcome to disagree with my opinion, but I stand behind my words and can tell you that I’ve had several reports of equally disastrous encounters. I took the time to tease out the fact that this was not only a first impression, but also a first impression of a restaurant that had recently opened. Still, the serving of spoiled goods was unacceptable and particularly noteworthy considering the background of the purveyor.

      These restaurants open their doors and take customers money – they need to be ready to do that. Fluffing these reviews with false information is a disservice to the readers, the restaurants themselves, and the restaurants that start off strong right from day one.

  2. What a bummer. I’ll probably still try to check it out sometime, if for nothing else but to try a strong tequila drink.

  3. yikes. i’m kind of shocked…. I was going to head there but might as well stick with less expensive average mexican places that abound around town.

    and also am entertained at the ‘commentors’ above – clearly they are defending their friend, if they aren’t the owner’s themselves…

    • It was what it was. As with anything, this is jut one person’s opinion. One of the people at my table actually ate their the previous night and he thought it was atrocious on both accounts.

      I cannot say whether or not I think they are a total write off, only that things have started off so very very poorly.

  4. Do you like anything? Can’t remember the last non-negative review/first impression you’ve written. And for a first impression, you sure did reel off some diatribe. Were 1700+ words necessary?

    As an alternative experience, I was in on opening night and it went down like this…no wait, quick water, chips/salsa, and drink service, and no food service issues at all. I enjoyed my sensillo (beef) tacos, my dinner dates’ fish tacos, and the arugala with mango/jicama and pistaschios salad we split. With beer and wine, the total came to $42. Not terribly out of line, and the same meal at Taqueria del Sol, would have run us in the mid $30 range…and that would have been with no service provided.

    For what it’s worth, we were NOT allowed to mix our tacos, something you state you were able to do…was that a typo caused by getting your anger out, or change in operations at the restaurant? I think it’s funny that you throw a positive remark towards the drinks and the bartender but claim you’re too warn out to go deeper…only that you had margaritas.

    Whatever…keep doing your thing, I’ll continue to go to the restaurants to form my own opinion, and if and when we see eye to eye on a spot, I’ll let you know.

    • I make no apologies for my palate or my observations. There are plenty of restaurants that I frequent that I am not a huge fan of, but when taking the time to describe my experience, I’m going to give you an unfettered recap.

      Necessary or not, these restaurants give us their full effort, and I return the favor by giving people a complete breakdown of the experience. Whether or not I have great things to say is irrelevant. I give all of them my time.

      As I stated in the review, the service was proficient throughout the evening, but there is no denying that at least four times during the meal, the wrong item was brought to our table. Your food bill was $28 for two people. I would say that was on the low end of the spectrum because you split an appetizer. Whether that is normal or not is entirely dependent on the habits of the diner. As we had 3 apps and 4 entrées for four people, and our food bill was around $80, I think it’s fair to say that food (without beverages and drinks) will run between $15 and $20 per person. Not extravagant, but considering the cuisine – this is pretty expensive. In addition, if you were to split an appetizer at TDS and order 6 tacos with rice and beans, your food bill comes to $23.00. That’s roughly 18% less than what you spent. That’s a HUGE difference in price point.

      I cannot speak to your experience with regards to the mixing of the tacos, only that we ask and we were able to. I’m not sure why my being tired is a point of humor, but no worries.

      I have said more than once that I don’t have a four-star restaurant in the city. It’s also painstakingly clear that there are more failures than successes … what is that unusual? How many All-Stars can there be? However, to say that I don’t ever have good things to say is not accurate. In fact, earlier this week I commented on a positive experience I had at Publik (even though my follow up was not as pleasant).

    • You say you will keep going to restaurants to form your own opinion. Do you also pay $11 to see Whiteout so you could make up your own mind despite what the critics said???

      Let’s be real: Urbanspoon(and Buddha is a cog in it) has totally caught restaurant owners off guard. There’s nowhere to hide. That’s the way it should be

  5. We went during training and found it lacking in several ways although from what we were offered on the limited menu, the Mixto tacos were the best. There is no reason to pay these kinds of prices for mediocre Mexican food. I think the space is doomed – seemed very difficult to get around in there. We also had order mix-ups and waited a LONG time for everything. When I tried to tip (the food was free since it was training weekend) using a credit card the waitress left and never came back.

  6. Seriously?

    I just read your “About Me” section. I can’t believe that anyone takes you seriously. First of all, don’t apologize for your palate. Apologize for your writing ability.

    Second, take note from real food critiques that actually have credentials. Wait until a restaurant is open at least a month before you critique them, even if it’s a “first glance”.

    Just because a restauranteur has other establishments doesn’t make any difference when opening a new place. If you really knew much about the business then you wouldn’t mention something so ridiculous. Was the staff the same as the previous restaurant that occupied the space? Was the manager the same? I don’t know the answers to that, but it didn’t seem to factor into your “first impression”.

    It certainly seems that your dream is to be on TOP CHEF and say those infamous words, “Pack your knives and go,” but even Padma, with her appearance in Hardy’s commercials, her monotone voice, and complete lack of personality would give you a run for your money.

    Proof once again that blogging is the ultimate form of pop-culture narcissism. Everybody’s a critique.

    • While we all could benefit from a little proof reading, I’m quite confident in my writing ability. I don’t often do a complete proofing job – I don’t have an editor and I don’t have the time or the energy to sift through the content. When there is an error, I fix it.

      My credentials stack up just fine against most food critics. Sure there are people that have spent time at culinary school, but I’ve worked in the business, I’ve learned from great chefs, and while you may not agree with what I have to say, it’s backed by a solid foundation. Are there people out there with more knowledge? Definitely. Are there people out there with more experience? Absolutely.

      The amount of slack given to restaurateurs is unfair. People will laud a place that opens and proclaim it the best there ever was. If you’re going to do that, you have to be able to work the other side of the spectrum. Besides, giving people the opportunity to slack off at the beginning is a disservice to those who get it right from day one. Bottom line, I call it like it is. I always make it a point to explain whether or not it’s simply my first experience at an establishment, or if it is also a newly ramped up operation.

      I absolutely disagree with your point about experience and background. Say what you will about the growing pains of a place like Abattoir or Craft, or any other place like that, but those places open with hiccups – not disasters. It’s easier to understand how things run when you consider who is behind the operation. If this was Ullio’s first song and dance, we would all need to be a little more lenient.

      It’s funny you mention Padma – because she’s got a hell of a background in food – and isn’t just a pretty face.

      Lastly, your assumptions about my aspirations are just that … assumptions.

      BTW, if you want to jump on someone for their writing style – make sure to tighten your stuff up. A critique is a critical review or commentary (aka – the writing), a critic is the person writing the critique.

  7. Please point out who lauded it and proclaimed it the best there ever was? I don’t think the real food CRITICS have posted their reviews.

    It’s a real shame that blogging has caught on. The reality TV trend knows no bounds. Eventually nothing will be credible.

    But seriously, what is your exact history in the business? I didn’t see the specifics listed in your “about me” section, perhaps I missed it. If you detailed that history, perhaps it would lend more credibility to your opinion.

  8. I want to thank you for your feedback.

    So far the responses from our guests has been very positive. We are asking them to rate the food, value, service and atmosphere as poor/average/good/excellent, and quantify them with a score of 1 being poor, 4 excellent.

    In the first week, 187 people responded to the anonymous survey. Here are the average ratings:

    FOOD : 3.34/4

    VALUE : 3.43/4

    SERVICE : 3.70/4

    ATMOSPHERE : 3.49/4

    The most common suggestion was to be able to mix and match tacos and to have more choices of sides. We are implementing these changes this week.

    • Hi Riccardo,
      Thanks for chiming in. While I’m not here to argue or discuss the survey, I will tell you that a number of people have told me in person and via this blog that they have had mediocre to very bad experiences. I have also heard positive things, but the disappointments to date have far outweighted the positives. Whatever the case, I have always found you to be a gracious host and hope for the best. Regardless of whatever one disappointed blogger thinks (that being me), the turnstiles will be the ultimate tale of the tape.

      I would love some clarification on the execution of the poblano if you have the time. I will agree that the atmosphere is great and that there is a lot of potential in the service.

      Keep on trucking, I’ll be back at some point and will gladly report the experience to others. Hope it goes better than this one!

      Cheers,
      FB

  9. The poblano you had was made with cincho cheese, it was misspelled on the menu. The cheese is very gamey, and the response has been hot or cold: some people love it, some are disgusted by it, probably because they do not expect it. In any case the point is mute because we ran out of it, and cannot source any more of it. The piece we were using was given to our chef by a mexican woman that brought it from Mexico herself.

    We are now making the relleno with queso fresco, a fresh cheese that has a consistency between tofu and mozzarella. I like the spongy texture and the fact that it does not melt into goo when the poblano is braised. However, it is also different from people’s expectations, so we will see what our customers tell us. When executing a well known dish in a novel way, expectations and innovation create an interesting mix.

    • Good to know. I think part of my problem with the dish is that I was expecting sweet … similar to when you pick up a glass of vodka thinking its water. I made a notation already about the error. Best of luck and I will give you guys another visit in a bit.

  10. your restaurant has not officially arrived until it has been reviewed by foodiebuddha.

    keep up the bashing, i love it

  11. ****** READ ME FIRST******

    Wow… I have had dinner at this restaurant twice, once during the friends and family week and as a regular patron tonight. Your review was like the mumblings of an imbicle with nothing to do. The food was fresh.. and exactly what was described on the menu. My first experience was day 3 of their opening and I did not expect a perfect presentation but I was surprised by how great the quality of the food was and quite happy with my overall experience that night. So, I gave the restaurant a month to do what restaurants do…. tweak the menu.. fire bad staff.. you know…. what they do. I have to say, tonight I was greeted warmly, seated, made the most fabulous martini.. served what I ordered in just the right amount of time.

    Tonight I tried something new. I ordered the mixed plate of tacos which is 3 tacos and 2 side dishes of your choice. I had 2 ribeye tacos and one shrimp taco with sides of refried beans and poblano coleslaw. I can’t express how pleasantly surprised I was with the taste of grilled ribeye in my tacos. The shrimp taco, although delicious, was a little too spicy for my taste. My Latino friend, however, ate it up and ordered another one because he loved it so much.

    Riccardo, the owner, came to our table to ask what we thought of the meal. We told him very sincerely that we enjoyed the food immensely and would bring friends in very soon.

    So, foodiebuddha, I’m so glad you’re not reviewing my hair, my shirt, my life…as I would be a complete failure. But in the real world, I have awesome hair, a lovely shirt, and my life rocks. Because it does not depend on destroying hardworking legitimate business owners who truly are doing everything in their power to make me happy. I say this because I was given a survey tonight to judge everything from service to food quality to value. I have to say that I gave them solid 5 stars down the line.

    In my opinion, I think you should give Lupe another try but maybe you should take the stick out of your ass first. This restaurant is not advertising that they are the best Mexican restaurant in America but merely an excellent choice in Atlanta. And I agree.

    • Hi Jane,
      There’s no stick up my ass – the restaurant opened … took people’s money – and put out a very bad meal … and that’s what i said in my review. I also pointed out that it was a first impression of a restaurant that just opened. They certainly will get a return visit … but i’m not going to compromise the integrity of my posts (or my opinions) for anything or anyone.

      We had a bad meal there … and it was an expensive one at that … step up to the plate or get out out of the stadium. There’s no axe to grind or anything of the sort. Meanwhile, glad you enjoyed it … and that’s why I approved this comment (as I do with all comments that I can vet). People will see your words up against mine and will have an opportunity to see what’s what.

  12. I went last Friday and it was pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but not bad at all. Maybe a 7.5 out of 10. I really enjoyed their salsa, and the cocktail I had was very well made. Prices were not bad at all – we took advantage of a $25 special that was an appetizer, two taco plates and a desert. Cocktails were a tad expensive even for midtown, at $8 – $10 each. We had excellent service.

  13. Not a great idea to review a restaurant in its’ first month, let alone the first week. Like it or not, restaurants are manufacturing facilities/assembly lines, and as with most manufacturing facilities, efficiencies are gained over time.

    That said, there seemed to be a lapse in management during foodiebuddha’s experience. Proactive management/service should have caught the less than stellar food experience, especially in a new restaurant trying to establish a reputation, and take actions to make the experience whole.

    As foodiebuddha pointed out, he still had to pay full price for an experience/product that was sub-par.

    I look forward to trying Lupe shortly. Hopefully, we will finally get the much vaunted Mexican experience in Midtown.

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