Photo by Chow, Baby

For those who haven’t been keeping up, Sylvan Heights, the area adjacent to Oakhurst that stretches to parts of Sylvania Avenue and NE 28th Street on the East Side, is exploding with new, quality independent Mexican joints. None of these places are hiring public relations firms, so you’ll have to sift through some strip-mall clutter to find them –– or just keep reading my column. 

A couple of months ago, I first visited Tacos Los Irresistibles (1308 N Sylvania Av, 682-841-1144) and the place made quite an impression. It’s rare to see a small, indie joint be so well branded. Its Dia de los Muertos-esque logo is all over the place, including on the servers’ shirts. It may seem like an odd compliment, but the strip-mall mom-and-pop feels like a real restaurant, as opposed to a family-run business making everything up on the fly. 

On my visit, the ceiling fans were on so high, little napkins littered the floor of the shotgun-shack-style eatery. Spanish language daytime dramas blaring from multiple TVs provided the soundtrack. A well-stocked condiment bar was the room’s most striking feature. 

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I sampled a trio of tacos, including the well-seasoned trompo, tender carnitas, and the bold, intensely flavored tlaqupaque, stewed and seasoned barbacoa. You pile on your own chopped raw onions, cilantro, and limes from the condiment bar. The kitchen’s salsa verde was more creamy than spicy. 

I discovered Comedor El Zabrosito (1712 N Sylvania Av, 817-945-1000) only because I was trying to eat at Doña Carmen Pupuseria, which recently shuttered after its lease expired – there’s still a location on Hemphill Street. 

Like its predecessor, El Zabrosito deals in El Salvadorian cuisine with some Mexican flourishes. The vibe, especially compared to the often-hectic Doña Carmen, is decidedly mellow. There’s no longer communal seating, but the yellow-and-pea-green-hued dining room of about 15 tables looked like it could still pack ’em in. The staff was friendly and helpful on my recent visit. 

My guest’s order of mondongo ($10.89), a cross between menudo and a traditional vegetable-laden Mexican caldo, was served in a bowl the size of a bathtub. The tripas were beautifully tender and lacked the slimy mouth-feel that turns so many gringos away from menudo. A plantain bobbed in the brew along with the plentiful and fresh-tasting veggies. I opted for various shades of pupusa, all of which were topped with the house-pickled cabbage and a flavorful salsa verde. The standout variety was the pupusa de loroco con queso ($1.65), a pureed squash blossom with cheese. 

Just down the road, No Te Levantes Honey (2705 NE 28th St, 682-250-2995) offered a menu with a little something for everyone, including burgers, brisket, and all things Mex-Mex. The spacious room’s aqua-blue-and-canary-yellow walls felt calming, like you’re walking into your therapist’s office. The open kitchen adds some atmosphere to the otherwise barren room. 

My guest, perhaps tired of my lust for off-the-beaten-path Latin fare, opted for the kitchen’s superior-tasting burger ($8.99), filled with the usual accompaniments, alongside an ample, juicy, cheese-drenched patty. All three of my tacos were excellent, with the buche (pig intestine) being the most adventurous and the pastor possessing the best flavor. 

Sylvan Heights might not be the flashiest neighborhood, but it’s one of the few areas left in this town where you’ll find a decent blend of value and quality. How’s that for PR?