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El Tapatio moves west


A seafood special at El Tapatio.

A seafood special at El Tapatio.

Mexican cafés have overtaken barbecues as the No. 1 growth industry in Des Moines’ restaurant world. The metro can’t get enough Mexican food. It’s reasonably priced, fresher than most cuisines and usually features well-balanced diets. Two businesses sparked this revolution. Los Laureles anchored the marvelous development that was rebranded La Placita on East Grand this June. A brilliant new paint job, plus murals by John Neal, upgraded the already-successful series of buildings. La Tapatia jumped out of the East Grand neighborhood when it left its humble tienda there to build a supermarket on Des Moines Street. Its butchers are the most accommodating in town.

The original La Tapatia neighbored with a small café called El Tapatio (La Tapatia and El Tapatio refer to female and male residents of Guadalajara respectively). Two decades ago it was Los Laureles’ main, but smaller, competitor. Delightfully, it’s back now — in a grand manner — in West Des Moines.

To my eye, it’s the best-looking Mexican restaurant in the metro. All furniture is custom-made with La Tapatia’s sombrero logo and pineapples, the international symbol of the hospitality industry. Both are hand-carved into wood and leather booths and inlaid under laminated tables. Slate walls, tile floors and fabulous, large paintings of both Guadalajara and Des Moines complete this 210-seat

restaurant’s ambiance. Four TVs played silently on my visits, all tuned to American sports rather than Latin American soccer as on the east side. Tables were set with two large napkins per seating, the minimum required at a Mexican café.

Prep Iowa

The menu also catered to west side preferences in Latino food. Chips came with a mild red salsa and a bean dip. (Salsa verde was cheerfully brought to our table on request.) Ground beef and

chicken tacos were featured on all combo dinners and in specials. They cost as little as $1, whereas traditional tacos (chorizo, carnitas, carne asada, tilapia and shrimp) cost $2.50. However, a plate of three tacos of any kind, with an order of beans, was available for $7. Still, I was irked that a “taco” did not grant any choice other than ground beef or chicken. All dinners, even the “Chef’s Cuisine” menu, came with flour tortillas rather than a choice of corn or flour. I was told that the only possibility of having corn tortillas was by ordering tacos. That’s a weird policy in an age of gluten paranoia, especially since flour tacos usually cost more than corn.

Other than that, I had no complaints. I loved that chiles rellenos could be ordered with a choice of meat stuffings in addition to cheeses. I was happy to find a T-bone steak dinner, with a perfectly seared steak, whole pinto beans, rice, beans, fries, salad and shrimp for $17. I enjoyed a “seafood special” that came with larger-than-expected shrimp and crab meat. I found the $6-$7 lunch and $8 dinner combos to be excellent bargains. Fish, while limited pretty much to tilapia, was perfectly executed.

Other than the dogmatic approach about tortillas, service was accommodating. Mistakes were made, but quickly and generously compensated. Water glasses were refilled in a timely manner, with fresh lemon wedges. There was a full bar with many drink specials. Sometimes, it was oddly cheaper to order a la carte than ordering a combo. Breakfast was served at all hours.

Bottom line: This is the best-looking Mexican café in the western suburbs. It might also become the best Mexican café west of east Des Moines.

Side Dishes
Thanks to www.wine4theworld.com, South Africa’s first black female winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela, released a limited edition collaboration blend with Napa Valley’s celebrated Helen Kepplinger. CV

Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.

El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant & Seafood
3751 EP True Parkway, West Des Moines
Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.,
Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.,
Sun. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

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