“Sheila! Order for Sheila!”
The employee stood at the service door and pointed the megaphone toward patrons on the crumbling black asphalt patio. We were seated on brightly colored wooden chairs that needed a paint job, around metal tables that needed refinishing.
Though unexpected, there is something appealing about having your name blasted over a megaphone. This is the sort of eclectic experience in store at Taquería el Tesoro. Perhaps that’s why this new addition to Edgewood has become the Mexican restaurant that intowners have been eager to hit up since it opened in January.
The small cinder-block building, with its gravel parking lot and front and side patios, may remind you of a roadside stop you’ve made during blue highway travels. This one happens to be inspired by co-owner Alan Raines’ nearly dozen and a half trips to Mexico.
El Tesoro is open for breakfast and lunch. Both menus are brief, and there is a fair amount of crossover, with a focus on tortillas — stuffed, rolled, griddled or fried.
Breakfast burritos are the most substantive of morning offerings. There are no revelatory egg-stuffed burrito inventions here, but they do execute them well. The burritos are generously filled, tightly rolled and spend quality time on the griddle. Among fillings, the chorizo y papas — spicy pork chorizo, moist, fluffy scrambled eggs and some potato for a charge of carbs — was the most satisfying.
If you teeter toward sweets in the a.m., the restaurant makes a variety of baked goods and pastries. Churros can be a treat on their own, but these deep-fried sticks flecked with cinnamon and sugar were dry and only came to life when dunked in coffee.
The 16-seat El Tesoro doubles as a neighborhood coffee shop. A cortado was serviceable, but on the weak side and wanting for a better cap of oily crema. More in the Mexican spirit are beverages like café de olla, drip coffee fragrant with clove, star anise, cinnamon and orange and served in a painted clay mug, iced horchata coffee, or, even better, house-made aguas frescas.
El Tesoro translates to “treasure,” and the lunch carte is where the real treasures lie. One such tesoro is the mulita. For this Mexican version of an enhanced grilled cheese sandwich, two corn tortillas flank a mixture of rajas (strips of roasted poblano chiles), your choice of filling (make it chicken tinga or barbacoa, if the latter is among the daily selection of beef preparations) and chihuahua cheese inside and out. With griddle time, the melting cheese oozes to mix uniformly with the rest of the filling as the tortillas develop a crisp, crunchy, cheesy shell.
Tostada de Tinga de Pollo doesn’t break south-of-the-border culinary boundaries, but the quality of the chicken tinga makes it worth ordering this crispy fried tortilla piled with the shredded poultry, tinged red from a slightly smoky tomato chipotle sauce.
While I would seek out El Tesoro for its tinga — whether on a tostada or stuffed inside a burro, the burrito’s big brother — other fillings didn’t leave much of an impression. Puerco verde (shredded pork) offered moisture, but it looked unattractively mealy. The carne del día was hit (barbacoa) or miss (lengua, carne asada). The only vegetarian option — a combination of rajas, grilled corn kernels and sauteed mushroom and squash — offered more texture than flavor.
The fillings are why I wouldn’t seek out El Tesoro for its tacos, $3.50 apiece, with a 35-cent upcharge for ones with house-made corn tortillas.
Tamales, too, are average. Though presentation — tightly wrapped in a corn husk — shows craft and care, the masa was dry and the filling scant for pork and chicken.
The restaurant offers a soup of the day, but at every visit, it was the same: pozole. No matter. This sopa is buenísima. The chicken-based broth, redolent with oregano, tastes clean and fresh. Bobbing in the bowl are toothy orbs of white hominy and strips of shredded chicken. Even the solid-to-liquid ratio is spot on.
Fried nibbles like chicharrones or a trio of tostones with fresh guac would pair better with beer, but labels like Jarritos and Topo Chico will have to suffice for the moment. A bar is among long-term plans, though.
When business partners Alan Raines and Darryl Howard discussed the concept with the AJC soon after the restaurant opened, they ticked off other items in the master plan, like an expanded kitchen and dining room, the addition of dinner service, and more outdoor patio space.
I’ll patiently wait for expansion, because five months have gone by and there are still kinks to work out — from a clunky traffic pattern in the restaurant to a need for more frequent wipe downs of tables.
El Tesoro is a work in progress. I would be more inclined to soak up the eccentricity at El Tesoro if its food came closer in quality to that of other quirky roadside spots.