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Diego's Mexican Bistro

Madison WI

118 state st, madison WI 53703
sun 10am-10pm, mon-thurs 11am-10pm, fri 11am-11pm, sat 9am-11pm

Diego's Mexican Bistro (Madison WI) - taco review

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Rating: 78
Price: $$

The To-Go

Cheap margaritas enticed us in, but the tacos weren't up to snuff.

The Sit-Down

From the outside, Diego's looks like a fairly unassuming State Street establishment - there's a small but pleasant sidewalk patio in front of a narrow storefront, nestled between Ian's and a coffee shop, with some advertised drink specials on weeknights. I went in for the first time this past week, between some relaxing at the Terrace and trivia night at Dexter's, and was amazed at the interior extent. With a long bar orthogonal to the street, Diego's opens up into an enormous multi-level seating & eating area, which extends all the way to a rear entrance on Carroll St.

This extensive seating area is obviously meant to accommodate the crowds that come streaming in for their "Taco Tuesday" deal, myself included. The breakdown, for those of you that don't know, is tacos a la carte for $2 apiece and 99 cent margaritas. The deal is very bare-bones, with things such as chips & salsa or cheese for your tacos costing extra - though our server did tell us that chips & salsa were free on non-Taco Tuesdays (and all other days of the week). While my party unanimously decided to forego the pre-meal chips & salsa, we had a 50/50 split as to whether the shredded cheese was worth the extra $1 (I, for journalistic reasons, went for it).

Diego's has 8 taco flavors, and all are part of the Taco Tuesday deal except pescado and camarones (sorry, seafood lovers!). I got two tacos, the carne asada (grilled steak) and al pastor (marinated pork). Both came on double-stacked corn tortillas, topped with plenty of cilantro and some very flavorful pickled onions. The cheese came in a dish on the side, and was more than enough for the two tacos. The onions were flavorful in a difficult-to-describe way; it was almost as if, in the pickling process, they had been slightly infused with radish flavor. This was a highlight. The meats, unfortunately, were on the blander end of the spectrum. Both had clearly been made in bulk (to their credit, based on the order volume we witnessed, significant advance preparation is a necessity on Taco Tuesday), but the asada didn't maintain much of a crispiness in its grilling. The al pastor was fairly saucy, but the sauce lacked excitement - ther was neither an exciting spice or pineapple tinge, both of which have been demonstrated in the past to make excellent al pastors.

One weakness of Diego's is the lack of a house salsa or hot sauce. Many of the best taco spots in Madison (Los Gemelos or El Poblano, for example) will provide many salsa options for taco-topping, which can enhance even a fairly bland taco. At Diego's, we had to ask the table next to us if we could borrow their Cholula. While this may be atypical (as mentioned, the rules seem to be different on Taco Tuesdays), those of us with spice-inclined palates would have appreciated some more options. The margarita, which it must be said is the real bargain of the deal, was about what you'd expect for a 99 cent margarita - sugary & delicious, but also small & weak. If you've got a high tolerance for sweet drinks, you could get a few and make it worth your while; personally, I moved on to an IPA. Overall, I enjoyed my Diego's experience - I haven't even mentioned the quality of the wall art, which was almost on par with La Guanajuatense - but the tacos were not the highlight.

This review was originally written for The Dish as part of my ongoing collaboration with Madison's premiere culinary magazine.

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