Mercado El Rey/Taco Loco: Milwaukee, WI

FlagLogo(Her)  I ventured out on  a solo trip and  decided to check out what is considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in Milwaukee.  It just happens to be a taqueria called Taco Loco located inside Super Mercado El Rey.  I am specifically mentioning this because this wasn’t immediately obvious to me or my GPS.  Anyway, to those of you who read our blogs, I may have solved the mystery as to why the Taco Loco we love to visit in Beloit, Wi is actually called “Taco Loco #2.”
Mercado El Rey is a Mexican grocery store that’s been around since 1978.  I’m not sure how long the taqueria’s been there, but it’s probably got claim on the name Taco Loco.  You have probably seen the El Rey logo on  items in your own grocery store since they make and sell their own tortillas and chips in a factory nearby.  El Rey got so big that they have a new grocery store located just across the street on Cesar Chavez Drive.  I don’t know if both have a taqueria (a place you can eat and buy tacos), but I’ll definitely check out the new place soon.

I decided to sit down and have a bite before perusing the grocery store so that I could take everything in and formulate a game plan.  The menu contained pretty basic authentic fare as well as some lent specials since it was Friday.  I looked around to see what everyone else was eating, but there was a good mix of everything going on.   I panicked when I heard they didn’t have any iced tea to drink so I ordered some orchata.  The server was quick and brought me some red and green salsas and some chips.  She didn’t seem keen on me taking my time and hanging out so I ordered a carne asada burrito which cost about $5.50 and threw in some rice and beans for a few more bucks.

Let me start by saying that the green salsa is not tomatillo.  It is hot and tastes like green and burning.  In fact, the red salsa tasted hot to me as well, but eventually I built up a tolerance for both and dumped  them on my burrito–Christmas style.  The orchata although too sickenly sweet to my liking, is a good drink for cooling things down.  The rice and beans were both very generic, bland,  and disappointing so I wouldn’t pay to get them again, but I really shouldn’t have ordered them anyway because my $5 burrito was bigger than my arm.  The tiny pieces of marinated grilled steak were tender, and had just the right amount of char on them.  The burrito was also filled with copius amounts of tomato, cheese, sour cream, and lettuce.  Was it the best burrito I’ve ever had? I don’t think so, but it was right on par with Taco Burrito Mexico and Taco Loco #2– my other favorite Mexican places.  I will definitely go back when I have more time.  Next time I go, I will get to the bottom of the menudo buckets hanging all over the place.  Some guy walked in with one and I’m thinking it’s like the refillable coffee mug at the gas station, but I’m still too scared to try menudo.

El Rey far outweighs my other Mexican favorites in atmosphere and experience and it predates them both so by default it may have to become my new favorite place.  It really is uberMexican compared to the others, and should be in a category all it’s own.

Okay, so I had limited time to shop, but since I wanted to  get the layout of the store and report back to my blog followers I decided to “buzz the gut” and grab a few things to bring home.  I went to the bakery and immediately realized that I was going to have a hard time ordering since the only thing I recognized were the churros.  The girl behind the counter told me those were the most popular so I ordered one of each flavor and had her throw in a weird danish looking thing and some cinnamon cookies.  I also grabbed some Tres Leche dessert parfait thingy in a cup and headed over to the deli.  At this point, the experience was making me wish I had retained at least enough high school Spanish to not sound like an idiot.   Over at the deli, you can order lunch meat and cheese, but you can also get chicharrones (pork rinds) in various sizes, tamales by the pound, taquitos, menudo, and pescado frito.  The pescado frito (whole deep fried fish) seemed just about as popular as any other fish fry on a Friday in Wisconsin.  I grabbed some Mexican string cheese, a scoop of pork rinds known as  “cracklins”,   a pack of tamales from the deli and continued my tour.  I passed by what may have been the biggest pork rinds I have ever seen.  This place was starting to feel like a Mexican Disneyland.  Each pork rind was about a foot long and I’m not sure how you would even eat them, but they seemed to be good sellers.  At $5.99 a pound, the bag I checked contained 3 puffed rinds and  cost $11.98! Do the math people–those are big ass pork rinds.

I glanced long enough at the meat department to notice that the prices were amazing and I admired the fact that many of the cuts of meat still had their flavorful bones in them and were not trimmed completely lean like at the chain grocery stores.   Any real cook can trim a piece of meat to their own liking and I’m getting really sick of paying high prices for the guy behind the meat counter to trim everything down.

There was a good selection of quality looking fruits and veggies in the produce department, but I passed by them too quickly to comment any further.    The impulse items at the checkout were an interesting foray into Mexican culture.  There were a few candy bars, a hot box full of different tamales, and some roasted seeds.  I will definitely need to make a trip back when I have more time.

Value…….9.345  Ambience 9.775……Service…….8.43 (communication was limited, but service was super quick)  Cleanliness…..sketchy

(Him)

So this was bring home food for me so it might as well had been grocery store food. There was no connection to the food spot other than hand delivered items.The Churros I had were pretty darn tasty. Probably the best churros I ever had because they were the only churros I’ve ever had.
There was another pastry item in the bag which was not so tasty It was a two prong attack of fillings, something yellow and something red. Something disgusting and something red. This item made it’s way to the garbage.
Now Saturday afternoon came about and by 1ish I was contemplating a jaunt to Butch’s pizza for their $3.75 special however the wife dropped a dime and called me before I headed out and reminded me that there were  “Tamales” in the fridge that I should eat for lunch.  AHHHH why not, I already dropped $15 on records the previous day so If I could save some dough by eating Tamales then so be it. Well once i saw these tamales I realized I should have asked her more questions like do you eat this husk thing or what? I had to facebook some folks to get the lowdown and one tried to convince me to eat the husk. In the end I did not. I also was out of Taco Bell sauce so the prospects of this meal did not bode well. I improvised and mixed some sour cream with some of the wife’s homemade no onion salsa and proceeded to enter food nirvana. How does one go all their life without Tamales? Yes, they were the goods fer sure. The mush outside made food love with the mush inside and  made a mush mush taste baby. The Salsa sour cream concoction only added to the tastebud explosion. I’m not sure 4 of these were enough. Guess what… I freakin love Tamales.
No score – just greatness

**editor’s note–the tamales referred to above were pretty tasty and unique.  I had just grabbed a pack from the deli that seemed cheap and didn’t notice at the time that there must have been some kind of code as to what I was grabbing.  Some tamales had red sauce, some had green, the ones I grabbed had none.  I later learned that my tamales were bean and cheese with peas and corn in them.  I have never had a vegetarian tamale, but I will say they were pretty awesome.

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