I've enjoyed the culinary stylings of my Atlanta chef bff, Shaun Doty, not once but twice in the last week. That has led to a very happy belly indeed. I hit Shaun's with a visiting girlfriend over the weekend and enjoyed a fall pasta special with apple and pumpkin...yummy!
Much more exciting, though, was my first jaunt to the newly opened The Original El Taco, which took over the Sala space. At El Taco, Chef Shaun has partnered with Fifth Group (Owners of South City Kitchen, Ecco, etc.). First off, I was shocked and awed that this place had a 20 minute wait on a cold Monday night, during a recession no less! Guess people were jonesing for some funky Mexican in Va-Hi!
We waited at the bar, and I took in the quirky decor. The back wall is covered in a hipster Mexican mural, complete with Frida Kahlo, a masked Mexican wrestler and graffiti. To up the quirky quotient even further, you get a poker chip upon coming in, and every hour or so, they spin a wheel at the bar, and the number it lands on wins free prizes such as t-shirts or shots of tequila. I loved the frozen mojito I had at the bar - why hasn't this been added to more menus?
The menu is divided into Mexican pizzas, tacos and Tex Mex. Our friend tried the fajitas, while the boyfriend and I both sampled a variety of tacos with a side of Mexican corn. I'm a sucker for Mexican corn - there's just something about corn, mayonnaise, tons of cheese and lime juice that is just so flavorful and decadent. Normally, it's a major pain to eat though because you end up with cheese and mayo on your face and corn in your teeth. El Taco saves you the trouble by serving the dish off the cob. Nice.
I tried the fried tilapia with avacado and salsa habanero, the Mexican chorizo with grilled peppers and onions and jack cheese and the crispy pork belly with cabbage, mint, chiles and chipotle mayo. All were delicious. The chorizo was a nice change from the typical taco options and had a great spicy/savory flavor. By the time I got the pork belly taco, I was stuffed, but even the next day, it was succulent and oh so yum.
Although I hate waiting for a table, especially in a city where even the best restaurants have no wait most of the time, I really enjoyed El Taco. The scene is bustling and hip, and everything we sampled was delish. I'll definitely be back again.
Sigh...Shaun Doty is my culinary idol!
Pros: Cool atmosphere, delicious variety of tacos and easy to eat Mexican corn
Cons: Long waits
The Original El Taco
1186 N. Highland Ave. NE
Atlanta, GA 30306