I find Mexican food in this town to be a tough one. Not that I have tried a lot of places, and still tend to hit the local place by my house frequently because I like their margaritas and chips and honestly, could pass on most of the food, but el Sol de Tala is one of those Indy institutions that has been on my list for awhile. I was actually there once for a large group meal, but hubby had never been, so we decided to finally go together.
It was a Saturday night, and the first thing I noticed was that there was no one in the place. It is quite large in there and there were seriously only probably 4-6 tables full the entire time we were there. Now I know this place has been around for 32 years (check the sign outside), but I would be a little concerned by this kind of business. And despite the fact that there was hardly anyone there (or maybe because of it, who knows), the service was a bit gruff. Our server was quite impatient that it took us awhile to figure out what we wanted. I am assuming this is because they have a lot of regulars who come in knowing what they want, but who knows.
Anyhow, we did quickly order some guacamole ($7.95) and margaritas because I remember both being good, and they were. The guac was nice and fresh and chunky. There were hunks of avocado, diced tomato and white onion as well as cilantro. And you could really taste the lime in it which I really like. Sometimes guac doesn’t have enough lime and then it seems flat (although I have also over-limed it before which isn’t good either. It’s a fine line). The chips were fine, but nothing special. They were quite thick and not warm. Tasted pretty much straight out of a bag. We often get a small pitcher of margaritas at our regular place and split it, but that wasn’t an option here, so we each went with the house “grande” margarita (I think it was around $10). Holy moly, they weren’t kidding about the whole “grande” thing. The glass was as big as my head (literally, I have a picture with it completely covering my face) and every time I set it on the glass table top I thought I might crack it. It was mighty tasty though, and was balanced well—not too sweet, not too tart. I remember them being strong, and while I wouldn’t call it weak, I didn’t think it was super strong, particularly for the amount we consumed.
We also shared a starter of panuchos ($7.95) as a second appetizer. These were interesting and I was quite intrigued by the menu description. They were small little corn cakes topped with refried black beans, shredded pork and pickled red onions. The cakes were set on top of mixed greens and drizzled with a sour cream like sauce. One of the things I like about this place is the presentation. Much more care is going into it than at your average Mexican place. And I like the slightly unique touches like the pickled red onions (always one of my favorite things) and using refried black beans instead of the typical pintos. But while there were certain aspects of the dish I liked, there was a TON of the pork and it sort of dominated everything else. A little less pork and little more of the sour cream would have been good. And strangely, not only was the pork a bit dry, so were the onions. They had the right flavor, but the texture was just a bit off.
We had ordered a fair amount of food at this point, so we decided to split an entrée. We wanted something a little different from your standard enchilada/burrito/taco type stuff (which they also have) so we went with the “bistek ranchero” ($10.95). This was thinly sliced steak (seemed like ribeye to me) that was sautéed with onions, tomatoes, chilies and jalapenos. This one had some heat to it for sure. I really appreciated the little side salad of mixed greens with vinaigrette and more of the pickled onions. They were nice to throw in the tortilla with the meat to cool it down a little. But the beef was really tender and very well seasoned and we both really enjoyed it. And it was a decent size for a split. There were also more of the refried black beans and some rice. The rice was just ok, nothing special. Pretty typical Mexican restaurant rice. But then again, I think there has only been one Mexican restaurant I have ever been where I have loved the rice.
So overall, food-wise, we really enjoyed the margaritas and guacamole (I think it is safe to say it is the best guac I have had in Indy at a restaurant) and the beef entrée was good as well. I think it is an interesting place—on the outside, it looks somewhat questionable whether it is even open (and the neighborhood is a bit run down), but on the inside it is much larger than you would think and is one of the “nicer” Mexican places in town I think as far as the interior goes. It was a little sad how empty it was, and like I said, the service, while quite efficient, was quite brusque, but there is more energy in the food than in your average Mexican place. At our regular haunt I often joke how there are really only like 5-6 ingredients and they just put them in different forms. This place goes a bit beyond that and adds unique touches that to me demonstrate there’s at least at some point been a chef behind the menu.
Anyway, you know what I want to know next, do you guys have suggestions for Mexican places that blow you away? Or even if they don’t blow you away, at least make you happy?
El Sol de Tala
2444 East Washington Street