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Taqueria el Pastor

Madison WI

2010 s park st, madison WI 53713
website
608-280-8898
daily 10am-11pm

Taqueria el Pastor (Madison WI) - tacosmog.com taco review

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Rating:84
Price: $$

Nestled down on S Park, between Taqueria Guadalajara and Mercado Marimar, immediately next to a Taco Bell, just past the St Vinny's Dig & Save, you'll find Taqueria el Pastor. They can be hard to spot at night, as the lights for their sign did not appear to be working. However, once you park your bike against a pole and walk up to the door, you'll notice two things:
(1) There's a disproportionately large and sturdy wooden roof over your head.
(2) You're hungry for tacos.

Carefully noting these facts in the official tacosmog.com ledger, business associate Erin and I entered on a pleasant December evening. Soon after we sat down, two things occurred:
(1) Chips and salsa were brought out to us.
(2) Seeing as it was a Wednesday, we were offered half-price margaritas, which we accepted.

The margaritas came out quickly (mine blended; hers on the rocks) and were less sweet than anticipated, which was a pleasant surprise. The salsa had a pretty good flavor, but was very liquid-y, so thin that it was hard to get sufficient volume onto the chips. If you tried to scoop up a sizable amount, most of it would run off. That was a bummer. The chips, though, were excellent - extremely thin and crispy. So thin and crispy that it was shocking how few were broken, and implied that they must be made in house. They lacked salt, but the shaker on the table soon remedied that. The chips were great.

After some deliberation and consternation, trying to figure out the most dollar-effective way to use the coupon we had come with while still tasting a representative sampling of taco options, we developed a gameplan:
(1) Erin would order chilaquiles
(2) I would order the taco dinner plate, with a separate taco loco on the side (not to be confused with the Taco Bell Doritos Loco Taco; this was double-corn tortillas with steak, pork, and melted cheese).

When we attempted to place our order, we found out that the classic 'offer not allowed to be combined with other offers because you only get one offer at a time' rule was in effect, meaning we could either:
(1) Pay full price for our entrees and get our margaritas half-price, or
(2) Pay full price for our margaritas, and get one of our entrees for free.
Thinking on our feet, we selected option 2, because the entrees cost more than the margaritas. Full of self-confidence (and a healthy dose of vim and vigor), we sat back and awaited our tacos.

They came out quickly, along with a supplementary squeeze-bottle hot sauce. Sampling it on one of the exquisitely dainty chips, we noticed that:
(1) It had a medium-high level of spice - enough to be noticeable, not so much that it left you "feeling it".
(2) It had a deep, smoky flavor without a strong tomato or tomatillo presence.

Faithful readers of tacosmog.com will recall that, while I am perfectly all-right with item #1, item #2 is not my style. Smoky salsas just don't float my boat. That's not to say nobody would like this salsa; I'm sure it was perfectly well-made. Rather, it would be in El Pastor's best interest to have at least a second salsa option, like all of our favorite Madison-based taco spots (La Guanajuatence, Mercado Marimar, Los Gemelos) to best serve folks of varied palates.

The 4 tacos can be ranked:
(1) Taco Loco. Ordered separately, and at a significantly higher price than the rest of the tacos, with double the meat, and infinite times the cheese/meltiness, there's no surprise that this was the preferred taco. The blend of steak and al pastor pork was quite nicely done. The taco was piled so high that it was impossible to make it through without ruptures (pro tip: let the meats that fall out of the taco land on your rice/beans, so you can scoop it all up and eat it laster). The salsa added a bit of spice and the smoky flavor was lost amongst the meats.
(2) Al pastor. The al pastor was in a tough situation, because I waited until last to eat it. Having already consumed my share of 2 baskets of chips, along with 3 tacos (1 being loco) and a few scoops of rice and beans, I wasn't particularly hungry when I bit into the al pastor. However, the meat was well-seasoned (as I previously noted on the taco loco), moist, and flavorful. The tortillas were a nice quality and looked house-made (though I really have no idea, unless I see the tortilla press in action).
(3) Chicken. The chicken was flavorful, moist, and didn't make my teeth stick together - three feats rarely accomplished with chicken ("The blandest of meats!"). It lacked spice; however, adding the hot sauce caused the smoky flavor to overwhelm the tangy-spicy marinade that the chicken was cooked in. Lime clung strongly to the chicken molecules, and a little went a long way.
(4) Chorizo. The chorizo was finely ground and, like all good chorizo, noticeably greasier than the other meats. It was also one of the most strongly flavored meats I've ever tried. When you take a bite, you're first hit with a blast of salt, which is quickly followed up with a blast of sour-salty-tanginess. A flavor that's hard to describe, but you've probably had it before, just not to such a degree (I'm reminded of Laotian cuisine). Personally, the flavor was just too strong, and I wanted to move on to the next taco. However, a few crumbles of chorizo fell into my rice/beans mixture, which I eagerly await eating in dilute form for lunch tomorrow.

Numbered lists are helpful for described trips to El Pastor:
(1) The Great. Great chips. Great, heaping taco loco. Delicious al pastor and chicken.
(2) The Good. Reasonable quality margaritas in large portions at a good price. I neglected to mention it until here, but the ambience was very pleasant. Mexican tunes came out of the TV and there were nice pictures on the wall.
(3) The Bad. Chorizo was overwhelming. Salsas were weak. Deals could not be combined.

Business associate Erin's chilaquiles were super delicious, and once again indicated that Mexican food is the best for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Also on the way home we biked through the Olin Park Christmas Light Spectacular, which was great. Overall, Taqueria el Pastor has good prices, mostly good food, and a pleasant atmosphere, with just a few weaknesses; however, in a part of town with such a high density of delicious tacos - Mercado Marimar is a couple blocks away - I'd be hard-pressed to return, if we didn't have another coupon.

Reviewed by tacosmog.com on