But out of limitations comes creativity. —Debbie Allen
“Tacos are all we do.”
That’s what the man who greeted us at the door of Taquería Las Catrinas said when he learned it was our first time there.
At the time, I thought What an odd thing to say. Particularly since there’s a big sign on the building with the word “Taquería” on it.
But looking back, I know he said it so we wouldn’t be disappointed that the menu was limited. That the restaurant didn’t “do” burritos, rice, and beans like some other Mexican eateries that call themselves taquerías.
But he needn’t have worried: Taquería Las Catrinas doesn’t need to do anything other tacos.
Now, what’s all this about Catrinas and tacos?
Just inside the door, a woman dressed in feathers and finery caught my attention. How could she not? She was 12 feet tall!
This was “La Catrina,” the cadaver-woman of artistic legend after whom the restaurant was named. All-show on the outside and dry bones on the inside, she stands as a warning against all that is phony and reminds us to stay true to our roots.
While I puzzled over what the connection could be between “La Catrina” and tacos, our personal greeter led us to the counter. He introduced himself as Eli (Berger). Turns out he and his wife, Paloma Madrid, own the taquería.
Eli’s warm smile grew bigger as he told us what made the restaurant special: its focus on the flavorful marinated meats that went into the tacos.
Okay, this could be good, I thought to myself. Then — BOOM— Eli showed us the trompo at the cook station.
And that’s when I got the connection between tacos and La Catrina. These tacos were the real thing. One look at that trompo — the rotating vertical skewer on which meat s-l-o-w-ly cooks and bastes — assured me this taquería was committed to making serious tacos that were true to their roots.
Visions of thin slices of porky goodness, slow-cooked on a trompo with juicy fat drizzling into every savory nook and cranny began to dance in my head.
Deciding what to order was a cinch:
Tacos al Pastor for two, please!
Our Tacos al Pastor was a concoction of pure delight. Okay, so now you’re likely wondering, What does pure delight taste like?
Like crisp, tender pork that has been marinated for days cavorting with cilantro, chopped onion, and caramelized pineapple atop a soft corn tortilla bed.
Small wedges of lime come on the side. Salsa for the tacos also comes separately so you can layer it on to your heart’s content — or not.
Choose between two house salsas: a slightly sweet red salsa with medium heat and a hot, smoky green salsa, or enJoy some of both.
Both salsas taste off-the-hook delicious so I was glad for the basket of THICK chips and salsa that come with each order.
Half-way through the meal, I was already plotting my second visit. And licking my fingers.
Yes, you could say we had a good experience. Taquería Las Catrinas uses fresh ingredients and their cooks know what to do with them.
Plus, everyone on staff delivered great service and treated us with genuine kindness. So we plan to go back again for Tacos al Pastor and more.
Because while tacos are the main thing at Taquería Las Catrinas, they’re not the only thing. The menu includes flautas, tostadas, and quesadillas as well. Best of all, most of these dishes can be ordered with one of the restaurant’s signature seasoned meats: either the Alambre sirloin or the pork al Pastor.
What is the ambiance like?
The atmosphere is bright and gay with tables set up from the left side of the main dining room, pass the cooking hub, to another smaller dining room on the right side of the building.
Looking towards the counter, you see:
- the trompo, that never stops turning, chubby with slices of seasoned beef, and:
- Servers emerging with dishes of food, fountain drinks and aguas frescas for diners eating in.
A row of refrigerators holding bottles of Mexican Coke and other soft drinks from Mexico decorate the back wall.
Vivid colors blend in like butter with the warm and welcoming vibe of this restaurant. That first time, the mood felt upbeat even though it was a mid-week late night and the place was more than half empty.
Which bring us to another perceived “limitation” I’m hoping Taquería Las Catrinas will blast through:
Its location on the East Mesa of Las Cruces.
This is the “newest” area of the city where much of the land has yet to be developed. Many long-time residents consider the East Mesa as “way over there” and the businesses located there as “too far to drive to.”
So despite the great food and friendly atmosphere, the question persists:
Now that they’ve built it, will they come?
No telling for sure, but the prospects are good that Taquería Las Catrinas will bust through the limitations of its location.
For one thing, everyone travels the US-70. So the restaurant’s location directly off the US-70E makes it easy to find.
For another, Taquería Las Catrinas shares a parking lot with Big Daddy’s Flea Market. And in that parking lot stand statues of a giant bull and a man taller than the Hulk. Even if you’ve never heard of Big Daddy’s, you couldn’t miss the place if you tried.
So next time you’re in the mood for tacos,
take the US-70E through Las Cruces and when you pass a giant cow, exit and make a U-turn to come back around on the service road.
Taquería Las Catrinas will be the building with clear glass windows covering its storefront, almost from beginning to end. You’ll see so much light and color coming through those windows, you’ll think there’s a party going on.
Then get yourself in there because a party is exactly what’s going on and they’re serving marinated manna from Mexico.
- Did you know the Tacos al Pastor for which Mexico is celebrated today originated with a popular Middle Eastern dish named shawarma? Lebanese immigrants to Mexico introduced it there in the 19th and early 20th centuries. So do look for a place where you can try Tacos al Pastor in your area, but if you can’t find one, look for a Middle Eastern eatery serving shawarma. (It’s tasty, too!)
- Learn more about Tacos al Pastor (and three other kinds of tacos cooked on a trompo) in this article by taco scholar, José R. Ralat.
- Hungry for more good Mexican in Las Cruces? Read this.