4544 monona dr, madison WI 53716
mon-fri 7am-10pm, sat-sun 7am-9:30pm
During the common springtime activity of bicycling around Lake Monona, hunger often strikes while coming up the southeast side. Unfortunately, previous lakebound expeditions failed to find even a single taco along the lake-edge streets. However, by straying a mere 3 blocks out of your way, you can get some of Madison's premier Mexican food, not to mention piles and piles of baked goods.
A Madisonian Taco Reviewing Expeditionary Squadron first got wind of El Bolillo while reading humorous Spanish-language comic strips during a previous mission to Mercado Marimar. They had a small advertisement on a back page, which was immediately filed away into the tacosmog.com to-be-consumed list. Several months later, the opportunity presented itself, and the expeditionary squadron struck with a vengeance as the sun was setting.
El Bolillo is a small combination bakery and deli counter. It looks like they specialize in breakfast pastries, and all of them looked delicious. In the tacosmog.com expert eyes, the cream puff looked fantastic, and the finger-buns were infinitely appealing. In addition to the baked goods, they also have a large selection of lunch and dinner foods - after pressing our waiter for some details, we found out the house specialties were memelas and cemitas, neither of which I had ever tried before. Between our group of 5, orders were placed for 7 tacos, 3 memelas, 1 sope, 1 tostada, and 1 cemita.
My first step, per usual, was the tacos. I had ordered one carne asada and one al pastor. Faced with a decision, I got both green and red salsa on the side. The green salsa was the universal favorite - a slightly tangy, green, tomato-based salsa with a moderate amount of spice. The red option is profoundly smoky, perhaps the smokiest of all smoky salsas ever consumed by the tacosmog.com tastebuds. Smokiness, unfortunately, is not really my thing, so the flavor was a bit overwhelming. Both tacos went well with the green salsa, though, and the green was aesthetically appealing when combined with the redness of an al pastor.
The al pastor itself was juicy and flavorful, but the flavor composition was well hidden. It didn't have the strong pineapple-y tang of a classic al pastor, nor the light citrus-y spice of an Americanized al pastor. It was more of a barbecue flavor with hints of sweetness. However you want to describe it, it was enjoyable but not spectacular. The carne asada was salty and flavorful, but on the whole a bit dry. Business associate Erin's carne asada looked significantly moister than mine, though, so I may have got the bottom of the bin after a long day. We showed up fairly close to closing, so I'd guess most of the meat had been made earlier in the evening or even during the lunch rush.
Overall, El Bolillo falls into an unusual category of Mexican restaurants - delicious, but tacos are their weakness.The memela was a meat-free hit, made of a thin corn exoskeleton around an internal layer of beans in an ovaloid shape, topped with salsa and cotija cheese. It is far denser than it looks and easily fills the stomach. Business associate Lindsey got a steak milanesa cemita, which was passed around and proved to be highly enjoyable, with hyper-soft house-baked bread and a tremendous amount of filling. The tostada and sope looked to be some of the most amazing bargains on the menu. El Bolillo does an excellent job satisfying southeast-Monona Mexican food cravings and includes several vegetarian options (memela, tamale, tostada, baked goods).
Reviewed by tacosmog.com on