For a fast, cheap and easy meal, you can’t beat a burrito, and one of my favorite places to grab a burrito is Las Morenas Taqueria, 628 N. Riverside Ave.
Right at the end of a tiny strip mall wedged along Riverside Avenue, this is the kind of place many people drive by for years without noticing. The family-owned taco shop draws a steady stream of people who have discovered its tasty food, reasonable prices and friendly service.
The menu is simple, but features all the typical dishes you’ll find at most local Mexican restaurants: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, tortas, and even sopes, a thick, fried shell made from the same masa harina as a corn tortilla.
I love the chile relleno burrito. You can’t go wrong with loads of melted cheese and the fresh vegetal flavor of a roasted poblano chile, nestled in seasoned rice, refried beans and a hearty helping of hot sauce, then wrapped up in a tortilla. All that comfort food is just $4.25. My husband beefs up his order by adding shredded beef tucked inside the burrito for an additional 50 cents.
Chicken or pork carnitas burritos are just $5. The savory shredded pork is an excellent choice.
Other meat options for burritos, tacos or tortas include carne asada, al pastor marinated pork, beef tongue, beef cheek or pork stomach. Burrito prices range from $5.75 to $7, depending on the protein selected. Diners can make any burrito “supreme” for an extra 75 cents, but I’m not convinced that the addition of lettuce, tomato, sour cream and avocado improves the perfectly balanced basic burritos here.
Basic tacos cost $1.75, although you’ll pay a bit more for fish or the excellent tongue tacos. If you like cheap tacos (and, really, who doesn’t?), visit between 3 and 8 p.m. on Wednesdays or Thursdays for a selection of $1 tacos.
While the sliced radish, wedge of lime and pickled jalapeños and carrots that accompany each order might look pretty standard, this escabeche is better than average. Accented with Mexican oregano, the carrots are tender-crisp, not raw and crunchy or, even worse, cooked to mush or straight from a can, while a hint of sweetness compliments the spiciness of the jalapeños.
Las Morenas serves a variety of bottled sodas from Mexico, and usually has horchata, a creamy, cinnamon-spiced beverage made from rice, and one or two flavors of agua fresca chilling in large containers sitting inside a refrigerated display case next to the counter where you place your order. I like both the sweet-tart tamarind version and the bright pinkish-red, mildly tangy version made from hibiscus flowers, also known as jamaica. Cases of soda and brightly colored chips and other fried snacks are stacked in the front corner of the little restaurant.
A freezer case filled with frozen treats is more attractive to me in the heat of August than this time of year, but perhaps the fruity, not-too-sweet Mexican-style popsicles known as paletas are just the thing to brighten up a gray November day. Flavors such as coconut, pineapple, banana and melon could send you on a virtual tropical vacation, right on Riverside Avenue.
The small seating area at Las Morenas is clean and bright and can be quite busy. Takeout orders are also common, with people popping in from nearby neighborhoods.
Las Morenas is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Call 541-770-7066.