The name is sort of funny. The atmosphere is nil. But the hot, marinated Mexican meats simmering in serving trays at the front of Taco Tinga look and smell wonderful and taste even better.
Taco Tinga opened in early August in the building at 3425 E. Douglas that had most recently housed sandwich shop Dolci & Joes.
The restaurant, owned by Angel Varela and Mahmood Karim, offers inexpensive, fresh-made Mexican specialties filled and topped in various ways with at least six types of meats, including barbacoa, carnitas, shredded chicken, asada and two types of marinated pork.
ON THE MENU Taco Tinga visitors are greeted by a long bar of heating trays filled with the meat choices plus rice, refried beans, grilled whole jalapenos and toppings such as fresh onion and cilantro, pico de gallo, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and four different sauces. They can choose which form they want their chosen combination of ingredients to assume: soft or crispy corn of flour tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, tamales, gorditas or sopes. The items are sold in multiples for one price and also are available as singles a la carte.
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DON’T MISS DISHES The prices at Taco Tinga are so low that we felt license to take a “one of everything” approach. In the end, our table was piled with ten items, plus an order of rice and beans and two small sodas, and the bill was under $25.
Our favorite of the meats was the barbacoa – tender, juicy beef shredded and dripping with its own rich sauce. It was excellent stuffed into fresh, soft corn tortillas and topped with cheese, sour cream, finely chopped onions and cilantro and a splash of tomatillo salsa. The results were almost a good with tacos filled with chunks of deep red pork pastor and a serving of rich pork chile verde. The whole plate was made more delicious by the soft, clearly homemade flour tortillas, grilled to chewy perfection. An order of soft flour tacos includes four and costs $5.99.
We also got the $5.99 order of four soft corn tacos, which were just as good and made on doubled up corn tortillas. We filled those with the smoky, shredded carnitas and the drippy, saucy shredded chicken. The trouble, if you can call it that, with both types of tacos is that they’re stuffed too full of meat and fillings, which makes them somewhat hard to handle. But we enjoyed spooning up the bits that tumbled on to the plate.
A single enchilada was only 99 cents, and we got ours filled with the chicken. Though it was beautifully topped with slices of fresh avocado, the sauce coating the shell was bland, and it was our least favorite of the options. An order of four enchiladas, which are available stuffed either with chicken or beef, is $4.99.
Our single sope cost $1.50 and was another highlight of the meal. Its base was a thick, round, flat shell that was perfectly chewy and full of corn flavor. It was topped with a smear of refried beans plus the delicious barbacoa (though customers can choose any of the meats) and piled with lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo, fresh avocado and a squirt of sour cream. It was so perfect, we wish we’d ordered the full serving of three for $4.99.
The shell for the fried flour taco we ordered was amazing – perfectly crisp but firm with no moistness or other visible sign of the grease it was fried in, which is unusual for fried flour tacos served around Wichita. We ordered it filled with the ground beef, which we didn’t love. It tasted a little too close to the source, which means either it wasn’t very fresh or needs some seasoning adjustments. But we’re eager to devour another one of those perfect shells with a different meat inside.
AMBIENCE There’s no ambience to speak of. The dining room has cement floors, a few basic tables and chairs scattered about and a display of hot food up front that customers can peruse and point at while choosing how to assemble their meals. But the room is clean and bright.
PRICE RANGE The food is very inexpensive. A filling meal can be had for $6 or less.
SERVICE The young man at the counter was nice, and when we needed advice on what to order, he would ask the Spanish-speaking cook for suggestions and translate her answers back to us. We forgave the staff when, in the middle of lunch service, they had a Pizza Hut pizza delivered to the restaurant. When we teased them, they sheepishly told us that although they love the Taco Tinga food, they need a break now and then.