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Los Gemelos

Madison WI

244 w gilman st, madison WI 53703
madison magazine

Los Gemelos (Madison WI) - taco review

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Rating: 92
Price: $$

The To-Go

ME: al pastor & asada tacos, potato & chorizo gordita
E: asadao & chorizo tacos
Best tacos we've tried in the near-campus vicinity, plus a free side of chips and salsa! Al pastor particularly notable.

The Sit-Down

Mexico is the world's 9th-leading producer of coffee, and the world's leading producer of tacos. As such, it is important to consider the similarities and differences between the two dishes.

-served hot; -typically available for under $5;
-smell generally appetite-inducing;
-made entirely of carbon-based lifeforms + water.

-brown liquid (coffee) vs. multi-colored solid (taco);
-caffeinated (coffee) vs. sleep-inducing (taco);
-appropriate for consumption during important business meetings (coffee) vs. appropriate for consumption during festive evenings (taco).

A final difference is that I dislike the taste of coffee and try to avoid it at all costs, while I consume tacos at every opportunity. One further similarity is that tacos and coffee are available in both appreciable quantity on Madison's student corridor, State Street. Despite this, after 14 months of living in Madison, I still hadn't tried a single downtown taco location until earlier this month. Prior to a steeply discounted trip to the Madison Symphony Orchestra's "Three Bs" show, business associate Erin and I stopped down the street at Los Gemelos on the strength of a recommendation from a co-worker.

After entering, we were pleasantly surprised with the casual atmosphere of the place. Little did we know how much we would benefit from Los Gemelos' exceedingly casual style. We took a table in the back and ordered a couple beers, pondered our options, and eventually placed orders. I put in for two tacos (one al pastor, one asada) and one gordita (potato & chorizo) while Erin ordered two tacos (one al pastor, one chorizo). We also inquired as to the availability of chips and salsa - after being informed that they would be an additional $3, we declined that option and went back to our Tecates and Coronas.

A new waitress soon came out bearing chips and salsa, which she deposited on our table - apparently, there was some miscommunication during shift change. Exchanging confused glances, we didn't protest the arrival of the salty treats, mostly because we were both hungry and total pushovers. A sign from the gods must be treated as such, despite the fact that we didn't want to shell out the dollars for chips. Besides, the chips and salsa looked very good. The chips were crunchy, though almost salt-free (we supplemented them with free salt from the shaker). The salsa was a mild pico de gallo-style chunky salsa with a tomato and onion base that tasted very fresh. We also had two squeeze bottles of salsa, one green and one red. The green was tangy, salty, and spicy, highly enjoyable. The red was a medium-hot bitter salsa with some smoky undertones. Overall, the best chip-top combination was a scoop of the pico de gallo with a dollop of the spicy green squirted on top, providing the tomato-y freshness with some measure of spice.

Shortly, our food also arrived. The tacos were on double-corn tortillas, topped with cilantro and onions, and came with a wedge of lime on the side. My al pastor and asada were nice and hot. Nonetheless, the tacos were worth the $2 fee. The asada was mildly seasoned with salt and pepper. It was cooked to perfection - grilled to the point of tenderness but cut thin enough to not be too chewy. With a bit more seasoning, it would have been unbeatable. The al pastor was a perfect balance between saucy and meaty. The marinade was barbecue-based and had a mild spice level, but it combined perfectly with the green salsa to make a delicious spicy saucy salty taco on the way up. Unfortunately, Erin received an asada taco instead of her requested al pastor, denying her the excellence of this top tier taco. The chorizo & potato gordita was filling and delicious but could have used more chorizo and less potato; however, this being a taco review, gordita quality cannot be considered. Overall, the tacos can be considered the second-best I've tried in Madison, behind La Guanajuatence - the big difference being La Guanajuatence's unbeatable salsa bar, cooler wall art, and a slightly saltier asada.

The real magic of Los Gemelo's, however, occurred when the bill arrived. As itemized, we paid for: 4 tacos, 1 gordita. No mention of our beers or the chips and salsa anywhere. Choosing to assume they comp-ed us the drinks because they knew I was Madison's premiere taco reviewer, we paid for our tacos and left with a pact to return as soon as possible (return trip #1 has already been successfully completed - chicken taco, al pastor gordita). For tacos within walking distance of campus, Los Gemelos edges Taqueria Guadalajara as the best available option.

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

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