I am a taco snob.
My friends say I am more of a taco elitist. In any event, I love tacos. So, after a rather busy day at work, I decided to treat myself to some Mexican food and have a taco or two. I declared my taco fix to a couple of colleagues at work and one immediately suggested the Taco Bell at 7th Avenue and Indian School Road. There I was, stuck in a moment in time where I didnt know whether to laugh until I hyperventilated or go to H.R. to file a complaint.
Another colleague said that she had heard that La Paloma had good Mexican food. I had heard the name before, but couldnt remember if I had even seen the place. I looked up the address, got into the car, and thought about tacos.
La Paloma is at the tail end of a small strip mall in the Willow District in Central Phoenix along Thomas Road. Across the street is St. Josephs Hospital. The brilliant yellow sign stood out and I pulled into the tiny parking lot. I had indeed seen this place before, but never really noticed it. Outside of the small restaurant was one table with an umbrella and two chairs.
I walked in and saw right away that this was much different than I expected. The inside was set up cafeteria style, but the steam tables were not really being used. The place was also quite warm inside, almost to the point of being uncomfortable. I stepped up to the register and a very nice woman came darting out of the back and greeted me followed by an apology about the air conditioning not being very good.
I scanned the menu and then select a combination platter. I had the #8 which consisted of a red or green chili burrito, a bean tostada, and a beef or chicken taco. I went for red and beef, respectively. I also got a large drink to wash it all down. I had barely finished putting the lid on my drink before my order was ready.
I selected a table about halfway back into the restaurant. There are only about 12 tables to choose from, a couple of which are in the back out of view. I sat down, had my plate set down in front of me and the woman put her hand on my shoulder and said, Help yourself to the sauces and chips, hun. She motioned over to a small area on one of the steam tables where two sauces and one salsa were in containers chilling on ice. The chips were nearby in a paper-lined basket.
I got a small bowl of the mild sauce, the hot sauce and the salsa and some chips and returned to my table. First, the chips. They were good. Crunchy, not greasy. However, they were also room temperature and I like hot chips, but that is a minor consideration. I tried the mild sauce. It was good. Savory and a bit sweet, with chunks of mild peppers in it. I liked it. The hot sauce was pretty much the same as the mild, but had jalapeños in it. It had a very small kick to it. I would have liked it more with a greater kick. Then, the salsa. That was the winner of the three. It was predominately tomatoes, but had a great mix of onions, cilantro, lime and parsley. It was tart and tangy and chilled.
I then attacked the plate of food. The tostada was perfectly acceptable. There wasnt anything splashy about it. It was just a good tostada. The shell was thick and fried thoroughly. The beans were creamy. It was all topped with lettuce, longhorn-style cheddar cheese and tomatoes. I added some of the hot sauce and it was a good start to the platter.
Next came the burrito. This was a rather large burrito. The flour tortilla was actually very fresh, which was a bonus. Sometimes, the flour tortillas are old and so chewy you might as well be eating gum. This was great. I cut into the burrito with the back of my fork and expected to see a dark red sauce and cubes of beef dribble out of the tortilla. I was wrong on both counts. The sauce was a lighter red and the meat was shredded beef. I tasted the burrito and was surprised. The meat was very tender and the sauce was sharp and had a slight smoky taste to it. After a few minutes, my mouth started to do a minor burn from the sauce. I liked it, even though it was not what was expected. I also would have liked the sauce to have been a bit thicker.
Now, the moment of truth had arrived. I put some of the salsa on my taco and got ready to see my day be a good one or a disappointing one. One bite later, I was pleased. The taco was excellent. The taco shell was thin and super crisp. The shredded meat was piping hot, moist and plentiful. The lettuce, cheese and salsa were nice accompaniments to the meat, but the meat stole the show.
The only down side to my visit to La Paloma was the drink policy. You can get a small or large drink and then fill your cup. But if you want a refill, you have to pay full price again. I am a bit of a stickler on this because I worked in a restaurant before and know the profit margin on sodas is amazingly high. Most people have a soda with their meal and then top off the beverage on their way out the door. Free refills would not make or break this place financially.
The cost of the meal was quite reasonable. The combo platter was $6.75. The drink was $1.60. The chips and sauces were free, even though they list that as a side item and normally charge $1.95. My total lunch adventure was $8.30 plus tax. Considering the size of the burrito, it was a good value.
It was a very basic Mexican meal, but just well done all the way around. Gourmet this is not, but I wasnt looking for gourmet, just some decent Mexican food. At La Paloma, I found it.
Now, if only they could get that air conditioning fixed.
519 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85013