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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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30 Restaurants in 30 Days: The Original El Taco

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Mixed tacos with grilled corn in lime mayo

When the Original El Taco first opened about a year ago, I was eager to try it. I would often drive past the building in Virginia Highland and think that a couple of tacos and a margarita sounded like a fine prospect. 

Problem was, we always decided to go on the spur of the moment (”look, tacos!”) but could never get in.

The hostess would invariably suggest we wait in the bar, which was stuffed like a car full of circus clowns with a noisy singles set drinking “Fro Mos” (frozen mojitos). I saw where this was heading. People would tank up in the bar and then spill over into the dining room to sop up the sweet booze with tacos. I wanted a quick, cheap meal — not a scene.

So, we waited a year, and guess what? 

It looks like the bib and stroller set has moved in.

The night we visit the bar is mostly empty, but families are at just about every table, and parents traipse through the dining room to accompany curious preschoolers to the salsa bar to dress their tacos. 

This process is inexorable, and it always happens to low-key Mexican restaurants. When our kids were younger, we were among the vanguard of parents who family-friendlyized Taqueria del Sol in Decatur. We were good parents, I like to think: we didn’t demand high chairs, let our kids scream or insist it was “cute” if they chose to place their sticky fingers on nearby guests or play underfoot waiters with trays. But we recognized an answer to our weekday prayers (melted cheese, margaritas) at Taqueria, and like every other young family in Decatur, we pounced.

The folks at El Taco seem to have accepted this fate with good grace, judging by the prominently displayed kids’ menu. They even fed costumed tykes for free on Halloween. 

 

Calabaza squash tamale

Calabaza squash tamale

I really don’t mind seeing children in restaurants like this at all. Sure, we are subjected to one ear-piercing shriek as a man holding an adorable, flailing little blonde girl walks by, making soothing shushing sounds as she tries to fling herself violently to the floor. But my wife and I have our tall margaritas — puckery, salty, perfectly balanced — and our inexpensive tacos. We’re copacetic. 

We also have the worst seat in the house at a wobbly table under a too-bright light directly next to the salsa bar. But our excellent waiter manages to dewobble the table with a wad of napkins, all the while giving informed menu recommendations. The service here seems to be far better than you’d ever expect from a $3 taco joint. 

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"Just-crushed" guac

The food is, you know, fine. Perfectly fine. I’m glad that I got the calabaza squash tamale on the waiter’s recommendation. The chunks of yellow squash are dense and meaty against the fluffy masa. The “just-crushed” guacamole is also good — chunky and well seasoned — though I’m not sure why it isn’t sexier. It’s almost too processed.

My wife gets a couple of grilled chicken tacos with avocado cream and really loves both the flavor and pleasant squish factor. My swordfish taco is too pungent (it smells fishier than it tastes), but a chorizo and yuca taco is one I’d order again and again. 

The salsa bar, by the way, has plenty of salsas and salads, and I returned as often as the 6-year-old at the next table. 

I don’t think I’d drive across town for this restaurant, but I’m definitely putting it on the “when in Va High” radar. Particularly since we were in and out for about $20 a person, tax and tip.

What do you think? Do you like this joint? Do kids drive you crazy — even in fun, casual restaurants like this one?

71 comments Add your comment

angela

November 5th, 2009
8:32 am

I love this joint! We drive from tucker weekly. We have been there late at night, early evening with kids, on the patio, in the bar, in a booth, at a table, spring, summer, fall and winter. Each time we have had delightful service and delicious food. I am a big fan of the fro mo and the key west margarita. We always start with the queso royale—no one in Atlanta has a queso this delicious. It is smoky and full of pieces of onions, jalapenos and chorizo. Their chimchurri beef skewers are amazingly sublime, an enexpected mouth watering experience. We take our well-behaved foodie children and they love it, especially because the wait staff treat them as customers too, unlike most restaurants in Atlanta (hear me Bone Garden?)

Ramona Clef

November 5th, 2009
8:41 am

I am enjoying this series.

Emily R

November 5th, 2009
10:33 am

Even though I don’t have kids, I really don’t mind well behaved kids just about anywhere, even higher end restaurants for special occasions. At the same time I don’t think out of control kids belong anywhere, not even McDonalds, because it isn’t fare to other patrons to end up covered in Coke because parents let their kids run amok. I know that kids are unpredictable, but if things start heading south, you take the kid out, that’s all there is to it.

Darin

November 5th, 2009
11:32 am

Thanks, John, for helping to family-friendlyize Taqueria del Sol. The first time we went to the Howell Mill location with our little boy we were a little freaked out to be the only ones with a kid in a very crowded restaurant with no high chairs. But we found out that 1.) a toddler is actually capable of sitting up in a regular chair and not falling over (who know?) and 2.) TDS and other noisy, casual places are great for kids because the occasional squeal of protest from a young one is pretty well drowned out by the din of the crowd.

There are many quiet, table-service places where we don’t feel comfortable taking our little boy. We like to stick to restaurants where we order at the counter, pay upfront and sit in a noisy room. Luckily, lots of local spots fit that bill in the city: Figo, Fellini’s, Vespucci’s, Tin Drum, Reuben’s Deli, 5th Street Ribs n Blues — my favorite, though, was the late and much lamented Zocalo Taqueria in Grant Park.

VoiceOf Reason

November 5th, 2009
11:33 am

Emily R.

Well said. As a mother of a 3yr old, I try to take her to mostly family friendly places, usually because the noise, bright lights and coloring pages they have will keep her entertained, but this does not give her license to ‘act a fool.’ I pull us out once the situation starts heading south.

imjustduckie

November 5th, 2009
11:36 am

I like it and have taken out-of-towners for a quick bite as well. Service has always been great for me. I like the pizza with the chicken myself, but the pork belly taco was really good too. Everything I have had has been tasty. :)

VaHi Patron

November 5th, 2009
1:36 pm

I like the food, but the place is just so darn loud! You need NASCAR quality ear protection to go in there on a Friday night. The carnitas Mexican pizza and the grilled shrimp salad are two of my favorite dishes.

Restaurant Owner

November 5th, 2009
1:47 pm

I won’t tell you which one I own (since I don’t want my windows to be egged or worse) but my restauarant has NO high chairs, NO booster seats, NO childrens’ menu, NO changing tables in the restrooms, and nothing else to let my patrons think that children are welcome there. We discourage it as much as possible and make it as difficult as possible for those who bring children in, hoping that they never come back with the kids. Sorry, but that is just the way it is – it’s my business – and I have many, VERY satisfied customers who continue to patronize my establishment because of it.

Too Easy

November 5th, 2009
1:52 pm

Restaurant Owner: I beg you to tell us where you are. I’m looking for a place that discourages over-permissive parents (I don’t blame noisy kids).

El Taco Blows

November 5th, 2009
1:58 pm

I LOVE YOU Restaurant Owner…

Mel in Midtown

November 5th, 2009
2:04 pm

I live just down the street from El Taco. Funny, few of the neighbors eat there anymore because the food is consistently mediocre at best. The room is too loud (lots of hard surfaces for the sound to bounce around on), as noted in JK’s review and conversation is almost impossible.

This location seems “snake bit” as a Mexican place. Sala de Sabor, the previous resident, never pulled it off, and El Taco has managed to exist because it changes personalities more than Madonna – from hip hangout to the Mexican version of Osteria, the family-centric Italian place further south on North Highland.

What will happen is that families don’t run up bar tabs – where the restaurants’ profit center is. Yes, there is not much food cost in tacos, but you’re gonna need to either raise prices or sell a heck of a lot more to off set the diminished bar profits that come with the family-friendly attitude.

quake

November 5th, 2009
2:05 pm

I’ll take Holy Taco over this place anytime……

Hate Rowdy "Kidz" in Restaurants

November 5th, 2009
2:18 pm

Some people should NOT breed.

“THOSE PEOPLE” are bad parents, and their poorly-raised spawn and future criminalz should not be unleashed on society.

Restaurant Owner

November 5th, 2009
2:57 pm

I hate myself and my childhood sucked. I also had bad parents.

Regina (I will use my real name)

November 5th, 2009
2:58 pm

I love you restaurant owner! I hate going to a restaurant for Adult Beverages, Adult Meals and Adult Conversation and there are children. There is nothing worse than a good time being disrupted by the piercing scream of a child. Not my idea of date night!

JDJ

November 5th, 2009
3:07 pm

We stopped patronizing Moe’s (welcome to Moe’s!!) for the very reason you described — it was an out of control playground minus the sand! We’re old and crabby now — even the grands are past that age so we have completely lost our tolerance for the screamers and the rude parents who turn a deaf ear. It sounds like this is a good place to come!! Thanks for heads- up!!

Fletch

November 5th, 2009
3:13 pm

Fried chicken taco is amazing

Arrogant restaurant owner

November 5th, 2009
3:18 pm

Restaurant Owner: I would bet my @#$ that you are the owner of Taqueria del Sol (the one on Howell Mill). I admit I do like the food, BUT the line is always out the door and if better arrangements were made to manage the restaurant, the customers wouldn’t be put out. The people who run that place are very rude and careless about their customers.

Neighbor

November 5th, 2009
3:24 pm

You must have gone there early. That place is crawling with kids (my two included) from 5:30 to 7:30, but then they are all gone and it turns into an adult place. We sometimes go for dinner, take the kids home to a sitter, and then come back to sit at the bar. Consistently good food, a great staff, and just what the neighborhood needed in that spot.

Renaissance Man

November 5th, 2009
3:24 pm

I have eaten at El Taco many times since it opened and have always had great food, service and experience. The Fro Mos are fantastic and, as Fletch mentions, the fried chicken tacos are delicious. I also think it depends on what time you go as to what crowd you see. If you’re there before 8:00 p.m. you get the families, after 8:00 it’s more of the drinking crowd, but it’s always crowded. My last visit was last Thursday night and we had to wait for a table at 9:00 p.m. Oh well, more time to enjoy the Fro Mos!!!

SSharpe

November 5th, 2009
3:33 pm

AAAaaaaaaah Restaurant owner I love ya! And, the grilled corn w/ lime mayo rocks my world. I think they put crack in it.

reservoirDAWG

November 5th, 2009
3:39 pm

When we take our 2 year old out we take her out of the restaurant until she calms down. She now knows how to properly behave.

Joe

November 5th, 2009
3:43 pm

No.. “Restaurant Owner” owns Bone Garden Cantina and The Vortex. You can read at plenty of places online, yelp.com is one, about how they are very rude to parents who “dare” to bring their kids to Bone Garden, no matter how well they behave.

bbb

November 5th, 2009
3:43 pm

As terrible and uninviting as the restaurant owner sounds, it is his/her perogative to have whatever kind of atmosphere they want. Parents, your child is not cute when they scream and should be reprimanded. People without kids, lighten up. That being said, I do not want to go pay $50 a plate and have crayons and crumbs from goldfish all over the ground.

AJ

November 5th, 2009
3:50 pm

I’ve eaten at Original El Taco around 8 – children free!! Whoo hoo! Anyways, the Mexican Corn (I think that’s what it’s called) is AWESOME. If you go, you must get it!

PJ

November 5th, 2009
3:58 pm

Some places are kid-appropriate and some are not. For those with a preference, choose accordingly. I’m not offended in the least that some places aren’t kid-friendly. Seriously, must have plenty of choices for going out without the kids! Really, most people with young children fill in that critical 5-7 p.m. time when most of the “scene” people who run up bar tabs haven’t even decided where to eat. Maybe we’re not running up a bar tab, but the restaurant is open at 5:30 and we are among the few there spending any money. Nothing wrong with restaurants catering to both kinds of crowds. El Taco is yummy with plenty to please the whole family.

SJ

November 5th, 2009
4:02 pm

We take our 3 elementary-school aged kids to Original El Taco all the time – no problem. The kids are big enough to act like decent human beings, and the staff is nice to them. The restaurant is smart: we parents spend the big bucks on the nice dinner and drinks while our kids color on paper place mats. Oh, and kids get free ice cream for dessert.

Sorka

November 5th, 2009
4:02 pm

I like the Original El Taco, and the times I have been there, I have not noticed many young children, but perhaps I (a singleton) go there a bit later than the diaper bag set. I enjoy the habanero salsa very much, and I think their tacos are quite generous for the price. I do not think every restaurant is required to be “child-friendly,” and some restaurants seem overrun with young kids, which can be off-putting if you are without kids. But I am OK with sitting near families with well-behaved young children. If the place is loud and the kid is loud, whatever, but I do not care for parents who allow their young children to run around unattended in the restaurant as if it were a daycare playroom – that is dangerous and, sorry, annoying.

Sorka

November 5th, 2009
4:04 pm

John, I think you have hit on a nerve for a lengthier column about families with little kids vs. singletons at restaurants!

K10

November 5th, 2009
4:07 pm

PLEASE Restaurant Owner – I beg of you! Reveal thyself! Nothing ruins a dinner anywhere faster than a screaming child who should be at home eating chicken nuggets and Kraft Mac-n-Cheese. Not the poor dear’s fault, mind you. I’d like to take a switch to their selfish parents – if you can afford to eat out, you can afford a babysitter.

Restaurant Owner

November 5th, 2009
4:14 pm

Hint: near JCT

sab

November 5th, 2009
4:14 pm

I really like paying over $150.00 a year for the news paper. I was excited about his reviews of the restaurants, then it said go to ajc.com. Why do I buy the newspaper? Because I like to relax and read the paper not sit at a computer. So if I don’t have access to a computer, to bad.

Mel

November 5th, 2009
4:14 pm

I have the same feeling – it’s OK if I’m close by, but nothing special. and I live in Virginia-Highland! I like TDS and Holy Taco better. Have noticed the same dual personality for El Taco – kids early; singles (older kids) later. So I know when to go depending on which atmosphere suits the moment. Restaurant Owner above certainly has the right to restrict who patronizes his/her establishment. And I have the right not to spend my money there because of that attitude – whether my kid (now 12) is w/ me or not. Which is why I haven’t been to the Vortex in many, many years.

Jason

November 5th, 2009
4:15 pm

We’re a fan of the The Original el Taco, and make the drive there every couple of weeks (yes, with the 4 year old and 8 year old in tow). The service is always excellent and the food is, if not “great”, very well done. My kids love the fish tacos and I love the fried chicken one. The margaritas and FroMo’s are a favorite of my wife. Is it that load there? I don’t think it’s any louder than any comparable place.

Darin

November 5th, 2009
4:16 pm

I agree with PJ — though I love going to appropriate places with our son, there’s a special place in my heart for for no-kids places too. When those wonderful parents-only nights come around and we have a babysitter, we make a bee line for one of our favorite intown spots where we can be reasonably assured that there are no kids and truly take a break from the parenting life.

There are many cool restaurants intown where there are no kids at night, and not just high-end places or smoking places. Here are some of our faves for those of you looking for a restaurant without kids: Top Flr, Social, Tap, Cypress Street Pint & Plate, Holeman & Finch, La Pietra Cucina, Ri Ra Irish Pub.

Some Other Mike

November 5th, 2009
4:19 pm

Hilarious…the only knock I have against the menu is that the items seem designed for pairing with margaritas. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; particularly since that quality makes for a good ‘pregame’ spot for the club and pub sets. The hourly “Wheel of Taco” has to go, however.

I’m still pleased they removed the bar’s “unibrow” when remodeling after Sala. It’s a testament to the power of space.

Also note: The chatter of 100 cocktail dresses will drown out any known phone ringer technology. So, keep your phones in view if you’re in here at night.

John Kessler

November 5th, 2009
4:39 pm

We probably went around 7:30. I think it’s great El Taco can cater to both crowds…testament to a good service ethic, don’t you think?
Restaurant Owner — If you’d like a space to expand on your thoughts (and I can confirm you actually are a restaurant owner), I’d love to offer you the podium here. Send me an email, if you’d like!

MixtapeAtlanta

November 5th, 2009
5:14 pm

We love this place! Next time you go- you MUST order the grilled scallions, the prok belly taco, & the FroMo the next time you try it out!

Renee

November 5th, 2009
5:20 pm

Restaurant Owner – I love you! Nothing ruins an evening faster than little ones! As for Bone Garden and the Vortez, the policy is shared openly, so you know before you go that your little ones and their poor behavior will not be tolerated. Get over it!

angela

November 5th, 2009
5:30 pm

Renee-
my children are very well behaved and not itty bitty ones. They sat as perfect gentlemen at the table, ordered with “please” and “thank you,” ate neatly and quietly. Our waitress even commended them after she told us “you know, we don’t have a kids menu”–we didn’t ask for one. THEN she said how much her boss hates kids and we should make sure they didn’t do anything out of line. Even the kids thought it was out of line. It was our third and last visit.

jennifer

November 5th, 2009
5:59 pm

Restaurant owner is my new hero. I do occasionally have to dine with my little nieces, and we flock to Osteria and TDS with everyone else. But, when kids swarm a restaurant where they’re not appropriate, it makes everyone miserable.

I eat at Original El Taco occasionally, but for that concept, the food is far superior at Holy Taco, Bone Garden and El Tesoro.

timmah

November 5th, 2009
6:36 pm

the pork belly taco is something I think about whenever I drive by that place. mmmmmm greazy and tasty and perfect..

My Two Cents

November 5th, 2009
6:45 pm

I, too, love you restaurant owner. Yesterday a friend and I went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch and there were 3 women with 2 young children eating. When the kids were through eating they were allowed to run all over the area and immediately started jumping on the padded booth seats. The women just sat there and finally after completing their meal rounded up these two hoodlums and left. I don’t mind well-behaved children but if you don’t keep your children under control it certainly makes a miserable experience for your fellow diners. Please control your rowdy kids or leave ‘em at home.

Tiffany

November 5th, 2009
7:51 pm

I came upon this post completely by accident, and was rather enjoying both sides of this little parents VS. non conversation pertaining to restaurants, with no particular intention on voicing my own opinion. Some people are just not child friendly, as I have never been one to be annoyed by children. I am now a single mother, so of course can look at every situation with empathy where I couldn’t before. I think it’s funny that someone could assume that because a parent may have enough money to eat out, they can find a babysitter. Sure, the affordability may be present, but where exactly should we pull this lovely babysitter from that is so willing to watch a child for the mere fact that you would like to go out and eat somewhere that does not serve chicken nuggets and mac and cheese for a change? Some of us are actually picky about who we leave our children with and only use babysitters when absolutely necessary, there being so many non-child-friendly people in this world.

I suppose though, people who feel this way about children eating out, and assuming that children only like McDonald’s, are the same ones who think that if someone is a single parent who has a hard time finding childcare and has no support system then they should not have children. Those are the same type of people that this wonderful little accident often happens to, and they find themselves in nice little restaurant with their hyper little one (even perhaps chubby little one – from all the chicken nuggets) determined to last through the dinner, as it has been about six months since you have seen the inside of a restaurant with grown ups sitting at tables.

FM Fats

November 5th, 2009
8:22 pm

Doesn’t the smoking policy at the Vortex preclude the admission of anyone under 18 anyway?

gary mcgr

November 5th, 2009
10:49 pm

Agreed with everything you said until the very end. TWENTY bucks a pop? I’m a California transplant, and if I spent half that in LA, San Diego, or the Bay Area for the same thing I would feel overcharged. We’re talking tacos, for crying out loud. Even with a good margarita that’s still a pretty stiff bill. May be the norm here in ATL, and a pretty good meal, but please don’t consider it a deal.

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ML

November 6th, 2009
9:39 am

If only parents would teach their children how to behave in restaurants — bring them some small toys, crayons whatever to keep them occupied. Make them know it’s a rule that you have to stay in your chair. And, if they start running around, you (the parent) have to get up from your drink and conversation and take care of them.
The worse is when a couple families get together and the adults sit at one table and the kids at another — shouldn’t be allowed because the kids are usually out of control.
Mr. Restaurant Owner — tell us where you are

John Kessler

November 6th, 2009
3:20 pm

You could do it for $15, Gary, if you don’t get two appetizers. We overordered a little.

JSC

November 6th, 2009
4:38 pm

I think restaurant owner has been “outed” on this thread further reinforced by his own admission of location.

I proclaim “arrogant” solved the mystery early.