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La Tapatia has new look inside, same authentic food

You could use the word “artisanal” to describe the fare at La Tapatia Mexican Restaurant in Phoenix. But it wouldn’t be high enough praise for the authentic, fresh food served up every day at this family-owned establishment.

Is it delicious? Can we say OMG in a family newspaper? They’ve been knocking it out of the park for 27 years with their made-from-scratch tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, fajitas, tamales, and combination plates — all at very modest prices.

I first heard about La Tapatia when we moved here from the Yakima Valley 10 years ago. With a large Latino population, the Yakima Valley is no slouch when it comes to great Mexican restaurants. La Tapatia exceeded my expectations.

Then, about five years ago, I wrote a feature story for the Ashland Tidings and Mail Tribune about where the Rogue Valley’s top chefs dine out when they have a night off. Several of them mentioned La Tapatia, preferring their simple, well-prepared ethnic cuisine to dining luxuriously.

I revisited La Tapatia several times recently to order some dishes I hadn’t tried before.

Their tacos are a favorite of mine. I love their house-made corn tortilla. Not a wrap, not a pita, not bread, and certainly not a shell. It tastes of fresh sweet corn with the smell of steam coming off it. It’s what you want in a tortilla: moist, tender and a little stretchy. If you eat one, you’ll want another one immediately. It’s delicious on its own or for scooping up refried beans and sauce, but it’s also the perfect vehicle for a taco.

On a recent visit, I ordered tacos al pastor for the Tuesday/Wednesday special price of $1 each. These are really delectable — grilled pork morsels with a flavor palette that combines traditional Middle Eastern spices with Mexican spices, served on small, doubled tortillas with onion and cilantro. I added chopped radishes and salsa chipotle (medium hot) for a bite that was spicy, crunchy and savory.

I haven’t tried every variety of taco they offer, but I will eventually. The taco de carnitas is another flavor bomb — the Mexican version of pulled pork, so tender and juicy. I topped it with some salsa verde and a spritz from the lime wedge served with the order.

I paired that with a taco de carne asada, marinated and grilled steak, sliced thin, topped with onion and cilantro.

La Tapatia was never known for its ambiance, but nobody cared. It was all about the food. However, the restaurant recently underwent some remodeling, and now sports new equipment and counters.

The new salsa bar is a winner. In gleaming stainless steel, the refrigerated unit has individual wells for chopped radishes, pickled carrots and seven different salsas. With a small dipper, you can ladle salsa directly onto your plate, or fill small plastic containers to take to the table for your basket of chips (free with orders of $5 or more).

The salsas include zesty avocado, salsa verde (green and mild), salsa chipotle (medium hot), salsa café (mild), salsa habanero (very hot), salsa Mexicana (hot), and a hot salsa designed for the chips.

Several years ago, Karen and I hosted a taco feed for the neighbors. We bought three dozen corn tortillas from La Tapatia, along with some of their refried beans and rice. We prepared meat and veggie toppings in our kitchen, and guests designed their own tacos. You can buy La Tapatia’s tortillas for $1.50 per dozen.

The fajitas are popular too, especially at dinner time, selling for $12.99 to $14.99. They’re served sizzling with onions, bell peppers, marinated chicken, steak or shrimp, with rice, beans and corn tortillas. You can make it a combo of two meats for $1 more.

If ceviche isn’t to your taste, you may be won over by La Tapatia’s version for $6.99. Ceviche is fresh seafood that has been marinated or “cooked” in lime juice. The Phoenix restaurant makes it with sweet and tender shrimp, full of ocean flavor. It’s marinated with lime juice, onion, cucumber and a blend of spices, served on a tostada. It’s bright, piquant and citrulicious. The tostada provides a nice crunch.

You’ll find some dishes at La Tapatia you don’t find at every Mexican restaurant — mojarra frita, a whole fried tilapia fish, crispy outside and tender inside for $11.99; and birria de res, slow-roasted, shredded beef marinated in a tasty sauce for $13.99. Combination plates usually include rice, beans, a side salad and tortillas.

Also noteworthy, for $13.99 each, are two seafood cocktails of generous proportions, served with tostadas and crackers: one packed with shrimp, tomato, onion, cilantro, lime juice and spices; another with shrimp, crab and octopus in a large goblet.

Veggie options are available.

La Tapatia is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week at 125 S. Main St. , in Phoenix. Walk through a small Mexican grocery section, deli and butcher shop to the brightly lit restaurant in the back.

La Tapatia offers catering, dine-in and take-away orders. Call 541-535-4565 to order, or visit the website at lataprestaurant.com to see the entire menu.

Jim Flint is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

La Tapatia Mexican Restaurant's tacos are served on warm, sweet corn tortillas and come in myriad flavors. Photo by Jim Flint.
La Tapatia in Phoenix offer a salsa bar sporting seven different salsas along with other goodies. Photo by Jim Flint.