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Livin’ La Vida Salsa (Taco Grill)

Once again in my quest for exotic and authentic cuisine from all around the world, I arrived at Taco Grill which is located at 111 West Ogden Avenue, Westmont, IL. I’ve been going there for years now, and it truly is one of the hidden gems of the Western suburbs for authentic Mexican food and beverages. At first sight, it may seem to just be a Latino version of a greasy spoon diner:

Ground Zero for Comida Buena (Good Food)

However, when you get inside it is quaintly decorated with Mexican pottery on the walls and various painting from Mexican artists. It has the warmth of a family owned restaurant and not the cold, plastic feeling that you just walked into a corporate Mc-taco chain restaurant. The staff is always cheerful and willing to explain anything on the menu if the description doesn’t do the dish justice. There is plenty of variety in terms of selection such as: tacos, tortas, huaraches, enchiladas, and tamales. All of these dishes can also be made vegetarian for anyone who has specific dietary restrictions. I normally order either the enchiladas verdes with cheese or the tacos al pastor (tacos with a type of pork roasted on a spit with pineapple mixed into the meaty melange). However, one day was certainly different in terms of the taco filling I chose.

My inner culinary daredevil was scanning the menu when I saw that they had tacos de lengua (roughly $7 for three)…or for those who don’t habla the espanol, lengua=beef tongue. I was pretty nervous when ordering the tongue tacos because I was wondering whether or not they would chop up the tongue to make it a bit more palatable or would I end up having to French kiss my taco in order to eat it? During the waiting time, I paid a visit to the most comprehensive salsa bar I have ever seen in a Mexican restaurant. There are over 20 different types of toppings ranging from the mildest pico de gallo to some sauces/relishes that would call for a colostomy bag for those uninitiated to spicy foods. Personally, I always go for the XXX.5 or the XXXX (the spiciest) salsas, a salsa verde (green sauce) and queso fundido (melted cheese), respectively.

Upon sitting down at my table, like clockwork, the staff brought the complementary, bottomless tortilla chips that are warm from the oven and are a great bargain/compliment to the freshly made salsas. I must emphasize that the amount of food that you get at this establishment is definitely inversely proportional to the price as I soon found out when I was face to face with my tacos de lengua.

Who knew tongue tacos would be finger licking good?

Thankfully they diced up the beef tongue into small cubes, but at the same time it was quite a shock to still see the taste buds on the individual pieces of meat (quite a surreal experience). As shown in the picture, the tacos also had chopped onions and a good amount of cilantro with a slice of lime to provide a nice zesty aftertaste. The actual flavor of the tongue was quite savory which I would liken to a rich hamburger, but I think eating such a meal is more of a test of mind over matter due to the texture of the meat. I have found that many American consumers are turned off by the mere texture of a dish, i.e. the chewiness of the tongue in this case, which may not be the same problem in other cultures. It was aptly summed up by Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain, “If the typical American eater has to chew the food more than three times, then it will be labeled as being gross”. To compliment the tacos, I got a jarritos tamarindo (tamarind is a common flavoring in Latin America which I can only liken to a variant of iced tea flavor) which is soft drink commonly found in Mexico. By the time I finished, I was stuffed, satisfied, and thinking about my next adventure as a gourmand.

So many flavors…so little time

So if you’re tired of getting the typical bland burrito bowls from Chipotle or the guilty pleasures from Taco Bell’s late-night drive through (though you can never go wrong with the cinnamon twists), hurry on over to Taco Grill in Westmont for simple, authentic, but delicious food at pedestrian prices. This establishment truly is a testament that you should not judge a restaurant solely on its paint job.

In Mexico we have a word for sushi: bait.” ~José Simons

Taco Grill & Salsa Bar on Urbanspoon

Taco Grill & Salsa Bar on Foodio54

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