El Torero, the ubiquitous local chain, recently openend a new outlet in the Lowe's Shopping Plaza on 15-501 just south of the Orange/Chatham border. On Friday night the place was packed with soccer moms and soccer dads with kids in tow. The all-American atmosphere was nicely symbolized by a woman headed to the bathroom with a tube of toothpaste and an electric toothbrush. The food was predictably bland: chicken breast, ground beef, iceburg lettuce, grated cheddar. I was shocked at first by the size of the plate -- the thing would have given a large pizza a run for its money -- but I quickly realized that looks are deceiving, and that most of the bounty consisted of rice, beans, and lettuce, all spread thin and wide. Service was completely chaotic, and we found a small worm frozen inside an ice cube. It occured to me that this might have been the lone touch of authenticity.
My Mexican Hall of Shame now includes El Torero, El Rodeo, and Los Potrillos (Rosemary Street), and La Villita.
My Mexican Hall of Fame includes Taqueria Chicho, Taqueria Superior, and Fiesta Grill. The latter clearly draws a non-Mexican clientele, but for the most part it resists the temptation to condescend and the staff is extremely friendly. Come to think of it, I don't think there's a local restaurant with a more welcoming staff.