The North Side is still the best area in town to find a lunch bargain. Where else can you get a delicious enchilada special for $3.99? There are a dozen good restaurants right on Main Street near the Stockyards, but if you really want to find the greatest, cheapest, and most authentic places, just head down N.W. 25th Street. That neighborhood may be a little rundown looking but it contains a few of the city’s brightest culinary gems.
What always struck me about the Deep North is how it compares to other poor areas. For example, there are neighborhoods on the East Side and South Side that are filled with only pawnshops, liquor stores, and fast food joints. Up north, there are plenty of dilapidated-looking homes lining the boulevards, but there also dozens of family owned restaurants.
It seems like Los Zarapes Restaurante (1503 N.W. 25th St., 817-624-8013) has been the anchor of that strip forever. The décor is a kaleidoscopic assault of streamers, paper roses, multicolored furniture and bric-a-brac at every turn. Imagine Pancho’s if the owners were hoarders. But the mother-daughter ownership team was charming and soothing enough to stop me from having a seizure.
I’d stop short of anointing the kitchen’s pozole ($9) as the best in town, but I can’t think of too many bowls of tender pork, al dente hominy, rich broth, and fresh cabbage and radishes I’d rather have in front of me on a cold day. It was a little pricier than I remembered, but the bowl is the size of a hubcap. The cheese enchilada lunch ($5) oozed queso blanco, and the accompanying beans were lush and dense.
Newcomer La Superior (1513 N.W. 25th St., 817-927-7688) was less than a block away, and the décor couldn’t have been more different. There’s nothing on the walls in the cavernous space. The place doubles as a convenience store selling canned goods and bags of chips, and a few cartoon-themed piñatas that hung from part of the building only drew attention to how empty the rest of it was.
On my visit, there were a few signs in the window promising a $4.99 enchilada special, but the kitchen doesn’t serve that anymore. I was never happier to have been a victim of the ol’ bait and switch. After negotiating a language barrier, the waitress/checkout girl brought me an enormous portion of rich, juicy carnitas ($6) drenched in a jalapeño-heavy salsa verde, with housemade corn tortillas on the side. My only complaint was that the meat was a little cold. The kitchen makes everything in advance and heats it up to order. But at least my pork wasn’t overcooked. The place doesn’t offer tap water, so go ahead and splurge on a Mexican Coke ($1).
If you’re looking for some of the best tamales you’ve ever eaten, check out La Abuela Regina (912 N.W. 25th St., 817-625-4263). When my guest and I arrived on a recent weekday afternoon, the little morsels of tender, flavorful pork nestled in a fluffy pillow of cornmeal were just out of the oven. I ordered a dozen to take home but ate three of them there at the table.
Abuela’s Pepto Bismol-colored building signifies to motorists that they have entered the Deep North’s restaurant row. The dining room was by far the most hopping of any I visited recently. The walls are filled with various handmade signs –– it was kind of the A Beautiful Mind version of a Mexican food eateries. My cheese enchilada lunch special ($5.99) was muy autentico, with queso blanco and the ubiquitous Mexican red sauce coating the red corn tortillas. My guest’s barbacoa tacos were well seasoned without the normal oily sheen found on most versions of the slow-cooked cheek meat.
There are plenty of other restaurants worth trying in the ’hood. You’ve just got to access your sense of adventure, get in your car, and look for the pink building with bars on the window.
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