Tacos are a specialty at Taqueria Mi Pueblo (Photo by Joe Songer)
Tucked in a corner of a Mexican market on Green Springs Highway is a portal to Guadalajara.
In that Mexican city, street vendors set up at markets and other gathering places to sell the snacks collectively known as antojitos (translation: “little cravings”). They serve stewed and grilled meats on tortillas or other corn-based flatbreads, topped with salsa, cilantro, crumbly cheese and other garnishes.
Nearby are little restaurants with specialties like the meat-and-hominy soup called posole or the tripe-and-chile soup known as menudo.
Taqueria Mi Pueblo in Homewood evokes that aura. From a small open kitchen, the restaurant sustains a mostly working-class Latino clientele with hearty meals and antojitos like tacos, sopes, gorditas, huaraches and their Central American cousins, pupusas.
The taqueria, which is connected to the Mi Pueblo #3 supermarket, serves some of the best examples of Mexican street food in town. Among local fans of authentic Mexican food, it operates in the shadow of better-known taquerias like Gordo’s in Birmingham or the Guzman brothers’ (Los Dos Hermanos) taco truck. But Mi Pueblo belongs on that top tier.
The menu only will be vaguely familiar to fans of the more common Tex-Mex style of restaurant cooking. There’s no ground beef and no dishes are smothered in melted cheese. Look at Taqueria Mi Pueblo as an adventure nibble in west-central Mexico.
What: Taqueria Mi Pueblo inside Mi Pueblo supermarket in Regency Square Plaza, 813 Green Springs Highway; 205-941-2770.
Hours: Open seven days .
Info: No alcohol; major credit cards accepted. Language can be a barrier. Menus posted online are dated and no longer valid. Recent restaurant inspection score: 90.
Bottom line: Review gets four stars out of five
Yes, Mi Pueblo has a hole-in-the-wall feel that will be off-putting to some. But the food is uniformly great. The made-to-order antojitos will spoil many diners with the charms of fresh masa, the slaked-corn dough used to make tortillas and the like.
Order a sope, and a cook will begin rolling a ball of the masa before patting it into a flat disc about a quarter-inch thick and a couple inches round. The dough is griddled on both sides, with the edges pinched up at the last minute. It’s a perfect platform to hold the refried beans, meat, shredded cabbage and sauce that go on top.
Like other taquerias around town, Mi Pueblo offers a variety of stewed meats that demonstrate how skilled peasant Mexican cooks learned to transform what many would call scrap. A cow’s head provides two of those at Taqueria Mi Pueblo: cachete (cheek meat) and lengua (tongue). Each is outstanding, the former rich and fatty and the latter tender and beefy.
More recognizable, yet still exotically interpreted, are azada (also known as “asada,” grilled beef that is then stewed with onions), pastor (pork slow-roasted with chiles and pineapple) and barbacoa (grilled beef or lamb). Orders can be dressed with various salsas, cilantro, minced onion, jalapenos and other condiments at a stand near the kitchen.
Those meats (along with stewed chicken and fried whole fish on recent visits) can be ordered as part of a platter accompanied by Mexican style rice, deep-flavored refried beans and tortillas. The meats also can be ordered as fillings for tacos and the other snacks.
The tacos are made with El Milagro-brand tortillas, a thick tortilla with a distinct corn flavor that is sold at most markets around town that cater to Latinos. But the other antojitos are prepared from fresh masa.
Normally gorditas are stuffed, puffed tortillas akin to pita sandwiches. The gordita at Taqueria Mi Pueblo was similar to a sope, perhaps a slightly larger and thicker disc of griddled masa, also with pinched edges to help hold the toppings of beans, meat, lettuce, tomatoes and a creamy sauce.
More substantial is the antojito called huarache. The long oval masa base is shaped to resemble the sole of the Mexican sandals known as huaraches. Mexican style rice enhances the familiar meat-bean-crunchy-green topping.
Pupusas are a Salvadoran specialty, essentially a thick corn tortilla with a filling. Choices at Taqueria Mi Pueblo include minced chicharrones (fried pork skins, softened in a chile-tomato sauce) or refried beans with cheese. Revueltas – a third option – is a combination of the two. The filling is encased in the flattened dough then griddled.
Fans of the tamales sold annually by HICA will find familiar flavors in the Oaxaca-style version sold at Mi Puebla. The corn husk-wrapped tubes of steamed, seasoned masa are filled with pork or chicken.
In addition to posole and menudo, seafood soup (Siete Mares, or “seven seas”) or beef stew (Caldo de Res) often are available, ladled from caldrons on the stove and served with corn tortillas.
Don’t go expecting traditional restaurant service. You order at the counter and, for the most part, walk away with your food (antojitos made with fresh masa take longer and are delivered to the table).
The self-serve condiment stand is nearby and the thirsty help themselves to Mexican and U.S. soft drinks from a cooler lining a wall. Afterward, you recount what you had when you pay at another part of the counter.
It’s communal seating, and there’s no busboy cleaning up when people are done eating. The sopes, huaraches and gorditas require cutlery, but only plastic forks and spoons are stocked at the tables. Adding plastic knives would help.
No frills. But each trip gave me chills of joy.
It helps that the adjoining market has a well-stocked butcher shop (they break down whole cows, hogs and chickens), as well as all the other ingredients needed to make their savory stews and piquant salsas. The cooks treat the food with love and care, like an abuelita preparing a Sunday meal for her children and grandchildren.
Such good food costs little money. Tamales are $1.50 and tacos are $1.65. Sopes, gorditas and pupusas are $2 each. Huaraches are a mere $5.50 per order.
While lacking in some of the usual measures for rating restaurants – atmosphere and table service for example – Taqueria Mi Pueblo stands out for the breadth and quality of its food. For that, it deserves extra credit – and repeated visits.
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Taqueria Mi Pueblo: Inexpensive, authentic and delicious Mexican … – AL.com
Tacos are a specialty at Taqueria Mi Pueblo (Photo by Joe Songer)