Restaurant review: From tacos to tamales, La Poblanita offers a fiesta for the taste buds
Like “Taco Tuesday” which it could have inspired, Cinco de Mayo ("the fifth of May" in Spanish) is a day when many people opt to eat Mexican food.
Some quick pertinent history: Cinco de Mayo commemorates a Mexican victory against the French army of Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla in a war that Mexico ultimately lost.
More fun facts: A person from that Mexican city of Puebla is often called a Poblano, or — using the Spanish language female diminutive — la Poblanita.
If those last two words ring a dinner bell, you’ve likely connected the dots to the much-beloved La Poblanita taco truck. Operated by the Soriano family — whose roots are in Puebla — La Poblanita was much in the news late last year when the truck was snatched from its Clintonville parking lot by thieves in the night.
Tragic, yes, but in a feel-good turn of events, La Poblanita was recovered and — with the help of a wildly successful GoFundMe campaign (nearly $80,000 raised) — was fully repaired and reopened to bustling business in mid-March.
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Considering La Poblanita’s Puebla connection and its risen-from-the-ashes backstory, this little taco truck that could (again!) would be a very fitting place to get Mexican food for Cinco de Mayo. Considering that La Poblanita regularly offers quickly prepared good taqueria fare with gracious service, it’s frankly a fine place to get Mexican food any day of the week (the truck is currently closed on weekends).
Cradling flavorful and amply packed meats in puffy, toasted and good-tasting soft corn tortillas that don’t turn chilly in seconds, La Poblanita’s tacos succeed where those of many competitors fall short ($3 apiece; $13 for a mix-and-match, “three-taco combo” bargain served with rice, beans and a soft drink that should be horchata).
I liked all the meats I tried: pollo — juicy pulled chicken; asada — lean but tasty, sometimes tender steak; chorizo — griddle-crisped, spicy and salty; carnitas — almost confit-evoking, irresistibly fatty pork; pastor — think house carnitas seasoned like chorizo, but less salty and less spicy; and highly recommended tinga — smoky, spicy, stewed chicken enhanced by chipotles in adobo sauce.
Tinga makes a great filling for a burrito ($11). To be honest, I think burritos can often be disappointing. Although easy to inhale (even while walking), many burritos are hampered by under-toasted, underfilled and overly thick flour tortilla wrappers that are about as much fun to eat as poster board.
Not here. The behemoth burritos I received featured actually appetizing, heat-dotted flour tortillas packed to nearly bursting, but proportionally loaded, with the usual suspects: meat (and plenty of it), beans, rice, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, you know the drill.
An appreciated and analogous toasting of respectable telera-style bread distinguished La Poblanita’s tortas. The sandwiches hit the spot well enough, but I surprised myself by preferring the same-priced burritos, which I think are a better value, too.
The bistec ranchero was a solid value for a large meal ($15) served with Mexican rice (average), partly smashed pinto beans (above average) plus tortillas and fixings galore. The entree’s obvious star was abundant and delectable carne asada souped-up with red-chile sauce and griddled with onions and potatoes that looked like stubby fries but tasted like something you’d get in a stew.
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If you want to get La Poblanita’s tamales — and believe me, you do — you’ll need to check for daily specials or just show up on a Friday, when tamales are routinely offered here.
Three fillings are generally available: pulled pork with a fiery red-chile sauce; chicken in a zippy tomatillo sauce; and veggie (cheese, tomato, onion and jalapeno).
I’m partial to the spicy pork, but expect whichever tamale you buy to have a supple and delicious, skillfully steamed masa casing and to be the best $3 you spend that day.
Where: 3825 Indianola Ave., Clintonville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Price range: $3 to $16
Ambience: popular little family-run yellow taco truck with super-friendly, quick service stationed in a convenient parking lot
Children's menu: no
Liquor license: none
Quick click: A previously stolen taco truck and much-missed neighborhood fixture has returned to its old location, and its taqueria fare — like highly recommended tamales — is as good as ever.