Latin options in Athens, GA
What are the best Mexican and Central American restaurants in Athens? My wife and I are not rich at the moment, so we tend to go for tacos and a la carte items like tortas, tamales, and empanadas. We really like La Estrella's tacos, and the nice people who work there, but our current favorite is Sabor Latino. Great salsa, excellent, flavorful tacos, and delicious tamales (the masa is beautifully creamy and tender -- maybe this is non-standard since most other tamales I've had are firmer, but it definitely works). So far everything we've ordered there has been good to excellent.
Places that have come recommended on this board but that have not wowed us:
Agua Linda (meat in tacos lacks flavor -- needs more salt, marinating, something)
Cali N Tito's (same problem)
Las Conchitas Calientes (I thought this place was really quite bad -- tamal was cold and tasted slightly off, tacos were blah at best, empanada almost certainly came out of a box, and the one Peruvian specialty we had, which the waiter specifically recommended, tasted like the chef had dumped several tablespoons of dried thyme into it)
Also, we do not like the new place on Baxter, Tu Metapan. Nothing really terrible about it, just blah. Seemed like they did not put enough care into their food, which strikes me as a pretty common problem in Athens restaurants generally. The place that used to be there (Los Pepes) was better. I got a fish sandwich there that was really out of this world, served with some kind of delectable creamy spicy green cilantro sauce. I wish I could find a sandwich like that somewhere else, but so far no luck.
Are there some other places we should visit for really flavorful, well prepared, inexpensive Latin food?
I'm sorry to hear that Agua Linda, Cali 'N' Tito's, and Las Conchitas Calientes have all disappointed you, as I love all those restaurants, but then I hardly ever get tacos or empanadas. If there's one bad thing I can say about Las Conchitas Calientes, it's that the service is slooooow. I only go there if I have a lot of time on my hands. I always get those fried rice dishes or the saltimpapas, mm mm.
Tu Metapan also bored me to tears. The waitress I had there was probably the sweetest and most wonderful Salvadoran woman I've ever met, so it wasn't a TOTAL bust, but everything we ate there (with the exception of maybe some of the salsas that came with the chips in the beginning) was bland, bland, bland. Another Salvadoran restaurant that also has Mexican staples including tacos and empanadas was Antojitos Salvadoreños on Chase Street. I had the Salvadoran Sandwich ($6), which was HUGE and pretty flavorful. 2 people could share it, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend that, as it comes with run-of-the-mill fries and ketchup, when I would prefer something a little more exciting, frankly. The pupusas (stuffed cornmeal patties) are pretty good and very cheap, but the cornmeal SLIGHTLY overpowers the flavor of the meat/cheese/beans inside, so I recommend slathering them with the coleslaw-esque stuff they serve you with them, and maybe a tiny bit of hot sauce.
I LOVE La Estrella, it's my favorite Mexican restaurant in Athens (although I wish they served margaritas), but I'm looking for new Mexican restaurants to try. Any recommendations? The only ones I've been to are that, Agua Linda, La Parilla (which all my friends love but I think that most of their stuff is over-fried, stereotypical Americanized Mexican fare), MexiCali (ugh), Mean Bean (booooring), and Taco Stand (if you can even call that Mexican). I hear the Taquerias around town are good and authentic, but I haven't been to any.
I've heard good things about this Sabor Latino place, but I can't find information on it online - where is it?
Taqueria La Jalisco is a pretty good taqueria offering cheap and satisfying tortas and tacos. I have not tried much else there. It's part of a mercado off Jefferson Hwy by the grain towers. Very little atmosphere as expected.
Taqueria el Sol de Zacatecas has a little more atmosphere than Jalisco but not by much as it was formerly a Huddle House. Still the food is good and the people are nice. Good barria (sp?, stewed goat), tacos (both al pastor and carnitas I think, plus chorizo), and good enough tortas. Make sure you ask for the different salsas.
I like Aqua Linda but it is inconsistent and yes, a little bland.
The best tamales I have found are sold out of a cooler on Saturdays at the mercado by Aqua Linda. Maybe other weekend days too, not sure. I do not think he is affiliated with the mercado.
Taqueria el Sol continues to be my favorite although I think La Parilla does a good job on their carnitas tacos. Last weekend at TeS, I picked up:
one carnitas taco. The meat was cut in squares, which just does not feel right. Ok but nothing special
one barbacoa taco. They said it was barbecued beef, but I usually think of barbacoa as goat or lamb, but I realize it can be all of the above. My brother ate this before I could try it. He seemed to enjoy it.
one al pastor taco which was the best of the bunch and thankfully had to actual chunks of pineapple (don't get me started).
I was also pleased to note that they make empanadas to order. I ordered two chorizo sans potato which were ... unfortunately a little boring. Dipped in the picante red salsa they were good, but a little bland. The only filling was chorizo, so perhaps that explains it. Still, I'd like to try some different combinations.
While waiting on that food to be prepared, I walked next door to try the Salvadoran place (which also serves Mexican). Stomach rumbling, I also ordered a pork tamale and two pupusas. I also noticed they had empanadas but did not try them. The chicharron pupusas were excellent but the crudito was actually not crudito - it was dry slaw with some sauce to mix in it. I wanted the spicy pickled crudito darn it all! The pork tamale was fine if nothing special. I'll be back to try their other offerings next week.
I'm sorry about your experience at Tu Metapan. We recently had a pretty great Sunday lunch there, and I was in fact impressed by how careful the preparation was—although I can't remember specifically why I thought that. Maybe you caught them on bad days, or we caught a good one? Flavorful, nicely toothsome carne asada, basically perfect pupusa (the pickled cabbage topping could've been a little more tangy), and a thoroughly comforting chicken-filled tamale. I also liked the weird tortilla chips, though it seemed like the kind of thing not everybody would go for.
I'll second the recommendation of El Guanaco.
Is Agua Linda going downhill? I hadn't been in a while, but a few weeks ago I was kind of disappointed—everything seemed un-fresh and more warmed-over than usual.
try the mexican restaurant called El Sol that is next to the Shell station on Tallassee just outside the Loop.
Get the green sauce with whatever you order... mmm, fresh tomatillos, cilantro and avocado with just enough fresh jalapeno to make it spicy.
handmade gorditas are awesome. or a torta.
this is the best in Athens.