accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

30 Restaurants in 30 Days: The Original El Taco

photo-2

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. 

photo-3

"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

Buckhead Working Mom

November 6th, 2009
4:58 pm

I have a little girl who is 3 and we DO take her here sometimes. I also make sure she is well-behaved. If she is not, we get it to go and we leave. I’m very aware of the other diners around us and consider it rude to ruin their evening.

Also, I love this place. Their margaritas are TDF and the BEST I’ve had in Atlanta. I also love their chicken with mole sauce taco. It is really good mole. The pork belly taco is also SOOOO awesome and the corn is the freaking best corn I’ve ever tasted. What do they do to it? I don’t know but it’s good.

I would highly recommend going and if you don’t like kids, why don’t you try going after 8:00 PM and then you might find most of them have left to go home for bed.

Buckhead Working Mom

November 6th, 2009
5:01 pm

P.S. Restaurant Owner if you are referring to Taqueria, you aren’t nice to any of your patrons, why on earth would you be nice to kids? Ha! I’d still bring mine there just to spite you. Jerk.

Maybe I’ll bring mine there this weekend and let her trash the joint.

jeas3

November 6th, 2009
5:33 pm

I’m not sure about Bone Garden, but the Vortex allows smoking so no one under 18 is allowed in at any time…

Mike

November 6th, 2009
5:52 pm

I love the Original El Taco! The Wheel of Taco must stay! Anyone who doesn’t like the wheel has no sense of humor! http://www.acitydiscount.com/

Aaron

November 7th, 2009
7:02 am

The topic of children in restaurants is always funny to me. It raises such ire among my fellow parents sometimes to thing that a business owner might not cater to their children. I love my daughter, but there are times that Mom and Dad just need a night out. So it’s nice to have a place that won’t be filled with kids on a Friday night.

That being said, it kills me that people are somewhat surprised that a taco joint has become a family restaurant. Anyone who knows about Latin culture knows how important family is.

Of course it’s well understood that well-behaved children are always welcome at most restaurants including some of the more finest in the city. I have seen, with regularity, children at Aria.

Lance

November 7th, 2009
7:23 am

Oh kids aren’t that bad. It’s the parents who just think it’s adorable when, and I LOVE this part, their kids are roaming the entire restaurant unattended while mom and dad are both drinking a pitcher of margaritas, who’s driving home tonight?, and annoying the patrons. Kids are curious and learn behavior so if the kids are brats, the parents were as well. If it becomes a factor, you tell the manager and get them booted. But that being said I remember, though years ago, eating in a packed mall’s food court and one mother and her two children were eating at a table next to me and I was just floored by how well behaved the children, both under 5, were. I even stopped by her table and complimented her and the children as well, which floored her of course. :)

But on the subject of vahi taco spots, give me Pozole any day of the week. The mussels, a margarita and a taco plate always hit the spot.

Working In VaHi

November 7th, 2009
10:14 am

I’ve never dined inside because by the time they open, my store is closing up. Then it’s time to make the drive to Lithonia. The food is great. I just wished they would open before five.

Edward

November 7th, 2009
10:15 am

I’m not fond of being in smokey environments, but I do admit that I will patronize a smoking establishment simply because I can tolerate the smoke better than I can the screaming children. Just last evening my friends and I were dining at Gordon Biersch in Midtown, it was 9:30pm, and unruly children were everywhere, screaming at the top of their lungs and simply making the entire dining experience highly unpleasant. From now on I plan to ask the host/hostess if any children are present before I’m seated so I can decide to go elsewhere.

Bonegarden and Vortex ROCK!

BigDaddy

November 7th, 2009
4:19 pm

John, your review doesn’t do this place justice at all. Try going later at night when the stroller set is down – you’re too young for the early bird special anyway. This review is better: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-22925-Atlanta-Lunch-Examiner~y2009m11d7-The-Original-El-Taco–Mexican-Street-Food-Done-With-Style

Foodie2.0

November 7th, 2009
10:19 pm

Restaurant owner- love you! There is a place in Roswell that has on their voicemail “we don’t have booster seats or high chairs”, in their passive aggressive way telling folks that lots of other folks don’t want to dine with misbehaved kids. Granted, there is a SMALL group of parents who have trained, yes trained, their children how to behave and they take the brunt of all the others who don’t —especially in this forum.
John- this series is fantastic. Thank you!

kids

November 8th, 2009
12:47 am

Most kiddies have bedtimes that are around 8pm. When kids get tired, they get cranky, unruly, and loud. 9x out of 10, an upset child has nothing to do with “bad parenting”, “training”, or some other parental shortcoming – other than the kid is too tired to be out in public.

If you hate children so much – I suggest going out at 8:30 – you’ll avoid 95% of the kids.

kids or drunk wannabes?

November 8th, 2009
12:54 am

I prefer the kids (who don’t know better) to the drunk wannabes (who should know better)

esa

November 9th, 2009
9:08 am

I got sick thinking about a taco bar where small children are serving themselves. You can’t reuse a plate at a self-service bar but a filthy snot nosed brat can serve itself. If I see a small child serving itself at a food bar, I leave or don’t use the bar.

We went to Europe with some friends and they took their three year-old. We went to dinner and it was a perfect angel. The next night we went out and it projectile vomited just as dinner was served.

Like your child, that one was perfect…until it wasn’t and that was attributed to a rare exception which it wasn’t.

There are 6.5 billion people on earth. We don’t need your spawn. If you feel a need to breed that obvously isn’t there, stay out of restaurants and planes for 12 years and leave the rest of us in peace.

Cubanamama

November 9th, 2009
11:03 am

Wow, Esa– tell us how you REALLY feel!

For my part, I’m on board with most of the posters here: Children who are well-behaved in public are not the problem. Children who are ill-behaved are only part of the problem– it’s their willfully clueless/negligent/spineless/selfish (take your pick) parents who own the lion’s share of the responsibility for the disruption, because they’re the ones with the power to do something about it (e.g., removing the child, etc.) but don’t. There are some situations (like being in an airplane) where, if a child stars acting up, there’s little the parents can do other than try to calm him/her down– but restaurants do not fall into that category. So, parents, have a heart: Your little ones won’t be little forever, so it’s not like you’re forgoing dining out for the rest of your lives (read: it won’t kill you to go home).

Oh, and the food: it’s not bad, especially if TDS is closed & you have a jones for a fried chicken taco. Like the salsa bar, but even their spiciest selections aren’t very hot to me.

tasha

November 9th, 2009
12:06 pm

Am I the only one who thinks that $20 a head is a bit much???
The Original El Taco is good…but not that good. Jeez :-/

To the Restaurnt Owner’s place sounds like the Vortex. That’s cool to not allow kids- my husband and I like going to 21+ w/o our brood. We also like to take them to family friendly places like Moe’s. Fortunately for Restaurant Owner and places like their’s- federal law does’nt mandate establishments to provide accomodations for children- like they have to for disabled citizens.

Kids’ behavior in restaurants doesn’t belong on this blog….that’s a whole ‘nother topic and blog within itself. I’d like to stick to the topic please. Some of the comments regarding children has racist overtones as well- and that sucks. :(

That lime mayo is kick a** though!!!

tasha

November 9th, 2009
12:11 pm

Esa- now that I understand. We have five children under the age of 12. We do not allow our children to go to the bar unattended, nor do we allow them to handle the serving utensils at the bar. We also mandate certain behavior from our children- ie no running, no loud talking, always use manners when addressing adults, napkin in lap, etc. We also don’t allow them to go to the bathroom alone. It irks me also when I see other children behaving badly!

I don’t believe in taking the family to places that have bars in them. Those kinds of places are for date nites for the hubby and I!

Place and time for everything.

esa

November 9th, 2009
8:32 pm

No child is well behaved 100% of the time. I assume all the posters here have children that behave perfectly 80% of the time. If you have two children and each misbehaves 20% of the time that means that in five restaurant visits you are going to be the parent with the unruly child 2 out of 5 times. Or maybe their bad behavior will fall on the same day and one out of five times you will have two wretched children annoying others in the restaurant. Your children don’t need to go out and they don’t need to fly. Leave them home.

Craigmack

November 9th, 2009
10:56 pm

This place ain’t half bad, and I don’t mind kids – it’s the parents who sit there while the child screams, whines and ruins everyone else’s dinner – all while they sit there and don’t do anything about it. I have been SO close to saying something to them – but what do you say?

This tops it – My fiance and I were on a flight to SF, this couple changed a DIAPER in the seat next to us. I mean really people.

G

November 11th, 2009
7:13 am

You children haters make me want to find you and sit next you with about 20 2-year olds. I hope you never breed. Your children will hate you.

John Kessler

November 11th, 2009
12:11 pm

We just went to BLT Steak next to a family with a bunch of little kids. One extremely cute little boy kept coming up to our table and staring at us. That was fun for the first three times. But finally I leaned over and gave his mom a smile, and she got the hint. It was a tiny annoyance, but that’s life. He was certainly well behaved and curious. Much better a sweet child than a freind’s dog with a probing nose.

Father AND Foodie

November 11th, 2009
12:54 pm

First, to the child-hater, you are either in the service industry, or you’re not. Taqueria del sol is a good example of a business that is not. If people like the food (which to me clearly demonstrates a serious lack of taste buds and a bent towards masochism), more power to them. However, the owners are litteraly laughing all the way to the bank at the suckers who line up there every day.

Second, it is the service that separates El Taco. They actually care whether or not you have a good experience. They take equally as good care of the stroller set as they do the drinkers–I’ve been both in the same restaurant, and received service that matched the kind of experience I wanted. Kudos to them for this.

And third, food in restaurants is subject to human error. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not. El Taco’s is consistently good to great. I would suggest to anyone that has bad food there (or anywhere else) to say something about it. I have, and they fixed the problem in under 2 minutes. Very impressive if you ask me. Tried the same thing at Taqueria once, and got nothing more than a grunt.

So if you want mediocre food served up with attitude, I encourage you to continue going to Bone Garden or Taqueria del Sol. But if you want a kick-ass fried chicken taco with a slap-your-momma-good margarita, served up by someone who actually cares whether you like it or not, I’d steer you towards El Taco. And who knows–you might even win the margarita for free if the Wheel of Taco lands on your number.