El último examen
El Tamborazo passes Henri’s authenticity test
Henri takes great pride in his ability to determine a restaurant’s degree of authenticity from hidden clues: a ketchup bottle on the table at a Chinese restaurant, for example? Pass. No dark rye at a deli? Next … “Soup du jour of the day” on the menu at a “bistro"? Au revoir.
Henri’s test for authenticity at a Mexican restaurant? 1) Menudo. Served every Sunday morning. 2) Price. While the menu might include items over $10, you should be able to order a taco or a burrito a la carte for less than $3. If there’s nothing over $5, you’re probably in very good hands. 3) “Art.” Sacre bleu! The décor in an authentic Mexican restaurant should make anyone who takes even a moment to notice it cringe. Think thick-framed prints of sunflowers or cacti or street (dirt-road) scenes from rural villages. Think thrift store. Even better if the restaurant’s principal artistic décor is neon beer signs in Spanish. 4) Formica and Naugahyde. Lots of it. 5) Televisions. Any self-respecting Mexican restaurant should have at least one television tuned to a Spanish-language station. Ideally, there’s one in the dining room and one in the kitchen. Best if you can hear them both—and they’re tuned to different stations.
I recently had the opportunity to put my little test to, well, the test: a post-Pirates of the Caribbean lunch at a charming Mexican restaurant out by Tinseltown (I keep my map in the car now and have not been lost in almost a month!). El Tamborazo passed with flying colores. In fact, it earned extra points—for televisions in the dining room (four!) and for the dining booths’ hideous Naugahyde upholstery, to which the backs of Henri’s substantial thighs stuck mercilessly.
El Tamborazo has an expansive menu, ranging from a la carte tacos, tamales and chile rellenos ($3-$4) to various “platters” and “platos,” including carnitas, enchiladas, arroz con pollo and steak picado, all of which come with rice and beans. Seafood dinners include a wide range of shrimp, crab and fish dishes and run $9-$20. Traditional combination plates (tacos, enchiladas, tamales, etc.), which also include rice and beans, are $7.50-$9.50. There are also tostadas and several other ensaladas to choose from ($7-$8). Huevos rancheros ($7.99) and other traditional breakfast dishes are available all day.
Having just spent most of my money on a large buttered popcorn, a box of Junior Mints, a bag of Skittles and a medium Diet Coke ($22.50), I realized I couldn’t afford much more than a couple of a la carte items. Thankfully, El Tamborazo is both generous and original with its appetizers: In addition to the traditional chips and salsa, you get a large Mason jar of pickled vegetables—carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers—delivered to your table with the menu. A bit wary at first, I soon found myself savoring each spicy bite. The carrots were especially good.
I decided to go with a taco and a tamal, generally reliable barometers of a good Mexican restaurant. The taco was good—with a semi-crispy corn tortilla, lots of chicken, lettuce, cheese and salsa. The pork tamal was even better, the masa moist and light, with a tasty red sauce. Total bill for lunch: $6.33.
I wanted to sample more of the menu, though, so I returned the following day. This time I ordered the combination appetizer platter ($8.99), which included quesadillas, flautas, some divine nachos and an excellent green-chili salsa; and the chicken fajitas ($11.95), which arrived at my table sizzling in a cast-iron skillet and were excellent—onions, bell peppers and large chunks of chicken that I rolled up in warm flour tortillas. I never even got to the rice and beans. In fact, I boxed up almost half of my lunch and reheated it for dinner, slipping half a flauta to Miss Marilyn, who’s been told to lay off the Junior Mints.