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Lunch at Taqueria los Arcos

Release Date: 2010-04-07

My dining companion for this Fast Foodie outing is playing racquetball this afternoon, which means he’ll be able to justify the five plates of food we’re about to scarf — which, to stare truth boldly in the face, will be layered on top of most of the basket of warm, crispy chips (still glistening with just a little oil) our waitress delivered shortly after we sat down. But the salsa casera has a good consistency and tart, salty tomato flavor.

Taqueria los Arcos’ lone dining room is pleasant and clean, and we have it mostly to ourselves, although there’s steady takeout business. Painted a pale peach and filled with light from the front windows, it doesn’t feel like it’s sandwiched in a homely far-north strip mall.

We dig into the asada torta ($3.75) first, and it turns out to be the highlight. The bread is fresh — crusty outside, soft and toasted inside — the asada has good flavor and is free of gristle, the mayo is creamy, and the avocado, lettuce, and tomato are fresh. Fortunately I still have room for the sope with picadillo ($2.25). Fresh cheese and soft pieces of potato melt into the ground beef and balance out the thick, griddled masa, which has a strong, homemade flavor. So does the corn tortilla that holds the chicharron en salsa verde ($1.59); I can taste the lime. The salsa verde is tangy and spicy, but the chicharron, although fresh and true, is a little too mushy for my taste.

The entire thing is a little too graphic for my lunch date, but he’s not any happier with the daily lunch special, flautas de pollo ($4.99). The chicken is desert-dry (no, it can’t be wet, either, but even a generous squirt of the salsa verde doesn’t help) and flavorless, and the fried flutes are hard rather than crispy. Our gordita al pastor ($2.25) is disappointing, too — it’s not very gordita, and the pork strips are leathery, not noticeably seasoned, and disconcertingly uniform (although they did taste authentically grilled).

Dining companion approves of the hearty and pasty refrieds that come with the flautas, though. Rankled in part that the only unsweet tea on offer is bottled, and alarmed by the dietary choices being made by the few other folks in the restaurant, he says he won’t be making the trek again. but if you’re in the area, I’d definitely stop in for the true-blue sopes and the tortas (sandwiches: so simple in concept, so easy to mess up; enjoy the good ones when you find them). Our entire feast totaled just over $16, so it’s budget-friendly, too, and if you’re thoughtful about it, you can eat relatively healthy. Or go to the gym later. — Elaine Wolff

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