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El Poblano (AKA La Joya)

Madison WI

3737 milwaukee st, madison WI 53714
mon-fri 10am-9pm, sat 8am-9pm, sun 8am-7pm

El Poblano (Madison WI)

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Price: $$

The To-Go

Nameless restaurant but all tacos sampled (al pastor, calabaza frita, chorizo) were excellent. Guacamole was also superb. Worth a trip, especially if you're going to Woodman's anyways.

The Sit-Down

I had heard through the Landscape Ecology grapevine about a good taco place out near Woodman's. Unfortunately, I didn't actually know the name of said taco place; only the approximate location and a reputation for good squash tacos. In need of a suitable location for an important business meeting, Business Associate Rachel did some clever Googling, and came up with La Joya. On a pleasantly sunny Monday evening, Business Associate Erin and I mounted our bikes and took a trip on the new and improved Capital City Trail.

Upon entering the Woodman's parking lot, we saw a signless Mexican restaurant; assuming it to be La Joya, we glanced approvingly at the buckets full of tomato plants and walked right in. We found out from the menus that we were in a restaurant named El Poblano, which happened to be in the same location as La Joya was listed, indicating that a recent name change may be the reason for the lack of a sign. El Poblano housed in the same building as the famous Pan y Pan Bakery (provider of torta bread to Tex Tubbs) and, as they share a cash register, they appear to be owned and operated by the same people. This was promising.

After coming in, we scored some chips and salsa, and also put in an order for some (half-price) guacamole. The chips were standard but good; thin and crispy, lightly salted. The salsa and guacamole were both excellent. The salsa was of the pureed style, and was moderately spicy with a lightly smoky flavor, though not overpoweringly so. The guacamole was mildly spiced and chock full of goodies - it compared favorably with our recent World's-Greatest discovery at Taqueria Sabor Queretano, though it wasn't quite up to the same level. If memory serves, El Poblano's was a little limier and a little saltier, meaning that the avocado flavor was less potent; but, both guacamoles are excellent, and a side-by-side double-blind taste test is the only real way to have an adequate comparison.

I also placed an order for 3 tacos: one al pastor, one chorizo, and one of the famous 'calabaza frita'. On the tacos, there's an option to add sour cream, cheese, and avocado for 50 cents, which I gladly accepted, along with the standard cilantro and onion. I started with the classic al pastor, my new barometer for inter-taqueria comparisons. It was truly excellent. It was lightly sauced, without being too greasy; the marinade was mild in spiciness but added a lot of smooth, almost creamy (yet still tangy) flavor to the meat. I thought it was excellent; it was among the best pineapple-free al pastor I've had, and I'd venture to call it Madison's best.

Next up was the chorizo and squash. Like the al pastor, the marinade on the chorizo was mild, especially compared to a place like Sabor Queretano or Los Gemelos. It wasn't quite as dominantly salty or tangy as I've come to expect from Madison's crumbled sausage scene. I thought the low grease levels were a big plus, both for cleanliness and flavor; however, I wouldn't have minded a stronger al pastor flavor to counterbalance the tangy lime that I squeezed on top. Finally, the calabaza taco was excellent, as expected; the squash was lightly breaded and fried. There's no debating that fried breading totally rules, and to be honest I wouldn't have minded no matter what was inside the crispy coating. The squash was very mild and proved a nice vessel. The calabaza also came with a bit of pico de gallo topping, which I enjoyed.

Overall, it's hard to find fault with anything El Poblano was doing, and upon departing my business associates noted that we were particularly excited to return after their tomato plants had a chance to bear some fruit. In terms of taco quality alone, these were excellent; the flavor was on par with the (sadly defunct) Guanajuatense and maybe slightly better than Sabor Queretano, though the portions were smaller. The atmosphere was also excellent, with a highly attentive waitstaff and delicious guacamole as well. Next time you're stocking up on snack crackers at Woodman's - take a trip across the parking lot before heading home!

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