Get Real 

Eating it up at Taqueria La Guadalupana.

Forget jet-setting to Puerto Vallarta. Taqueria La Guadalupana provides the true flavors of Mexico right here in a strip mall. This is not Tex-Mex.

Located at 4818 Summer, Guadalupana is family-owned and has been open for two years. The interior is mint green with a tile floor and metal chairs and tables. Little painted houses hang from the walls. But what's most striking is how this restaurant buzzes -- with the chatter of 100 or so patrons, with the mariachi music, with the hustle and bustle of the staff.

The meal starts with a basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips and a green tomatilla salsa and a traditional red, tomato-based salsa. The tomatillo salsa was warm and spicy with jalapeño peppers and lime juice. The red salsa, the favorite of the table, had large chunks of onion, pepper, and tomato and was finished with cilantro. To accompany our salsas we ordered the guacamole, which has a bit of citrus to keep the dip from discoloring. In addition, the guacamole had hints of fresh garlic, coriander, and onion married with diced pieces of red tomato.

There are no alcoholic beverages at Guadalupana, though they do serve a variety of interesting beverages for those wishing to embrace the total Mexican meal experience. The orchata is a very sweet rice drink that looks like skim milk poured over ice cubes. It was refreshing and left a hint of nutmeg in your mouth. The fruity and fizzy non-alcoholic sangria lacked the mixture of fruits one comes to expect from an authentic sangria -- oranges, lemons, and limes. This sangria tasted like a sparkling grape juice.

For dinner, we sampled the Combinacion de Fajitas (chicken, steak, and shrimp fajitas). The meats were sautéed together and piled high on a platter. Although appealing in presentation and quantity, the entire dish had the overwhelming flavor of shrimp. Disappointing. Remember this tip: "If you are cooking with seafood, always add it at the last minute."

For the vegetarian, Guadalupana's menu offers many selections. These include the Quesadilla Con Queso, Arroz, Frijoles y Crema, a flour tortilla folded with cheese, rice, beans, and sour cream, and the Sope Vegetariano, a thick fried tortilla with beans, rice, onions, sour cream, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, cilantro, and avocado.

The vegetarian at our table chose the Enchiladas de Queso en Salsa Roja, Arroz, Frijoles, Crema y Ensalada, three cheese enchiladas in a red sauce surrounded by rice, beans, sour cream, and a salad. It's a colorful dish that will make your mouth water the moment you lay eyes on it: fresh corn casings stuffed with a cheese mixture and covered with a juajillo chili sauce. The juajillo chili is the dried version of the mirasol pepper -- mirasol being Spanish for "looking at the sun" -- which gave the enchiladas an earthy and slightly bitter flavor. A subtle yet flavorful rice, infused with crushed tomato, surrounded the enchiladas.

I ordered an a la cart dish that included Sope de Asada, a Chile Relleno, and a chicken tamale. The Sope de Asada is a sopapilla hollowed to create a pocket for chopped steak. The overflowing cubes of tender steak, with shredded lettuce and sour cream, crowned the excavated fried bread, with the removed slice of sopapilla acting as a canopy. The chicken tamale proved to be small, dry, coarse, and flavorless. The Chile Relleno was a large pablano pepper that cradled a bed of Monterey jack cheese. The stuffed pepper was lightly breaded and fried. The Chile Relleno burst with the tanginess of the pepper and was pleasantly tempered by the cheese. The Chile Relleno disappeared quick.

My partner ordered our table's favorite selection. Undeniably, the Bistek a la Mexicana, Arroz, Frizoles, Tortilla de Maiz y Ensalada is one of the specialties of Guadalupana. The thin slices of steak are seared to perfection and then covered with onions, red and green peppers, and a tomato-based sauce. The freshness and simplicity of the ingredients enhanced the color and taste of the dish. The aroma of the dish met the table before the waitress set the plate down. This was truly the climax of our dining experience and the entrée every one of us would go back for. A nearby table ordered the steak as well but piled high on a roll as a Torta de Asada, a Mexican steak sandwich. Another dish to remember on a return visit.

The refried beans were unsatisfactory as a side dish. Runny, flavorless, and lacking the spattering of onions one expects. Are the beans even fresh, or are they powdered?

The portions served at Guadalupana are generous, and we left gorged and satisfied. Real full on a meal that was the real deal.

Taqueria La Guadalupana is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to midnight. The prices range from $1.25 to $11.

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