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Taqueria Guadalajara 

True -- Not Tex -- Mex Go south of the border in North Charlotte BY TRICIA CHILDRESS The server looked panicked as she approached the table with menus. Before we could proceed, she gestured for us to wait a minute and then vanished. A second server soon stood in her spot. This time we had the chance to ask a question in Spanish about one of the entree items. She looked back at the kitchen and then she, too, vanished. Something we said? A third server appeared. This server, although not bilingual, seemed bemused by our attempts at her language.Mexican restaurants abound in Charlotte, but the best are located near Charlotte's ethnic enclaves and do not necessarily have a bilingual staff. Taqueria Guadalajara is this sort of place. Located in a former pizza spot near the intersection of Sugar Creek Road and North Tryon Street, this place is packed: couples, a mixed table of eight, and smaller groups of men, some of whom wear Western garb. Mexican music creates a festive atmosphere. Just inside the door are racks of Spanish language newspapers. Forest green ceramic table tops in the rustic dark wood booths have names carved around the wooden edges. The kitchen crew, seen through brick arches, pulses. Images of Mexico hang on the walls: black and white photographs of folk heroes such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. The photo of the woman who looks like Jane Russell on the back wall is one of Pancho Villa's 22 wives. Taqueria Guadalajara celebrated its third anniversary this month. Owners Renardo Raso and Jose Herrera opened in the hopes of serving the Spanish speaking community. Says Herrera, "This food is 100 percent Mexican, not the Tex Mex found in some of the "Mexican' restaurants here (in Charlotte). Our dishes are from Guadalajara, especially the tacos. That's why our name is Taqueria." Herrera reports that 80 percent of his customer base is Spanish speaking Latino. The menu, however, is in both Spanish and English but is devoid of ingredient descriptions and cooking methods. Once a server had a permanent position at our table, chips, a bowl of quartered limes, and a trio of salsas quickly appeared. Munching on these, we perused the menu. A modest selection of Mexican beers and domestic sell for the same price, $2.50 but -- no margaritas nor tequila. The menu has the usual roundup of classic, casual Mexican offerings, plus the weekend specials of menudo and serviche. Beef soup is the special on Monday and Tuesday, and Shrimp Soup on Thursday and Friday. Soft taco fillings range from pork, steak, and chicken to chitterlings, beef tongue, and beef head. These ingredients also turn up as choices in burritos and quesadillas. A hero-sized barbacoa (or Mexican barbecue) sandwich ($5) shone with tender strips of well-cooked, seasoned beef, showered with strips of crisp iceberg lettuce, and slices of avocado and jalapenos. The same beef showed up again on the steak fajita ($8.50), here mixed with slices of bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. Although the picture on the menu shows fajitas served from skillet, ours was brought to the table on a plastic plate accompanied with rice, refried beans, and a chopped iceberg lettuce salad. Also good is the Al Pastor taco, the house signature dish, with strips of tender, marinated grilled pork and a fine rendering of familiar fare. On the other hand, the deep fried godornices, Cornish hen, tasted flat and dry. Unfortunately, the delicate meat was bludgeoned by the cooking method. Quail is also offered. "Quail hunting is a popular hobby in Guadalajara," Herrera says. You cannot go wrong with their housemade desserts ($2.50). The Flan de Leche is pleasing and smooth, while the Pan de Queso (cheescake) is light, yet velvety. Taqueria Guadalajara does not serve the American hybridized, co-opted Mexican fare we are increasingly offered in Mexican restaurants. Their food is simple, inexpensive, and refreshingly good.

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