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Mexican cuisine ... and home cooking ... at El Tapatio

Step through the doors of El Tapatio and you’ll feel right at home in this family restaurant, an Ashland institution since 1992.

The scent of chile teases the nose and a guitar plays softly in the background. Ramiro Padilla shouts, “¡Hola!” and seats you at one of the massive carved, glass-topped tables. Chips and salsa appear as if by magic.

El Tapatio’s menu is extensive, with appetizers, everyday plates, specialties and desserts. A la carte items such as tacos, enchiladas and chile rellenos run from $2.25 to $7.50 for the veggie burrito, and combination plates with rice and beans are $9.50 for one item and $11.50 for two. There’s a full range of fajitas, enchiladas, huevos, burritos and seafood dishes, along with a tantalizing list of Tapatio’s Plates, where we found our preferences.

No. 21 was my choice, Plato Jalisco, a plate overfilled with a spicy, salty pounded chicken seasoned with cumin, red pepper and chilies. The plate also touted two tender slices of carne asada, or grilled beef, and a moist and delicious chicken tamale. A grilled jalapeno — just hot enough for my palate — topped it off, along with grilled onions, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream and sides of rice and refried beans. At $20, I had my dinner and the next day’s lunch, too.

My dining companion ordered No. 27. At $15, the chile verde featured tender chunks of lean pork braised in a flavorful tomatillo sauce. My mouth watered as I reached across the table with a tortilla to clean his plate of the sauce. I could have enjoyed that mild, meaty and savory sauce with a spoon.

In the next booth, a couple settled in with a baby and perused the menu over drinks before ordering. El Tapatio’s kid’s menu offers smaller-sized portions that come with rice and beans at $6.

Big platters soon arrived at that family’s booth, including a Molcajete Tapatio. Impressed, I stopped to stare at the rock bowl stuffed with shrimp, chicken, two grilled beef tacos, roasted jalapeno, rice and beans. I wondered at the sauce, which could have been Diablo, mojo de ajo or Mexicanos. The molcajete was $26. I thought about begging a bite, but I was too full.

El Tapatio has a full bar, with big blue margaritas ($6.50 to $9.50) that come with little umbrellas. Also look for spirits, house wines and Mexican and American beers. New to the domestic beer list is a hoppy 10 Barrel IPA.

Open early for breakfast, a senior special is offered for $6.99 and includes several choices: two eggs with bacon, sausage, potatoes and toast; or two pancakes with ham, potatoes and toast. On this particular day, the breakfast special was a spinach omelet with mushrooms and bacon.

It was Salvador Padilla, Ramiro’s father, who first came to the Rogue Valley in 1969. He picked pears at Bear Creek Orchards, and his wife packed pears. Ramiro made his way in the California fields, moving up to foreman before coming to the Rogue Valley. When the Padilla family opened El Tapatio, Ramiro washed dishes for a time and learned the business. He now runs the restaurant with his wife, Beatriz, and two sons.

There’s nothing pretentious about El Tapatio and everything to love. The food is good and plentiful, and service is quick and friendly. The restaurant is tidy and filled with family photos and snapshots of friends and customers. El Tapatio is a regular at the Ashland Fourth of July Parade and other celebrations around the Rogue Valley. Ramiro Padilla makes a couple of calls and 30 to 40 buddies can show up, dressed to the nines and perched on their horses. Seeing these capable, beautifully costumed caballeros riding such splendid animals is a high point of every parade and not to be missed.

El Tapatio is at 1633 Highway 99, before the junction of Valley View Road south of Ashland. The driveway is easy to miss, as the restaurant is behind a larger business. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, until midnight Friday and Saturday. Call 541-488-2276 or see eltapatioashland.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Plato Jalisco, a combination plate with carne asada, chicken, tamale, grilled onions and jalapeno at El Tapatio Mexican restaurant in Ashland. Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistilla