Monday, August 15, 2011

El Sol de Tala

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. 
panuchos

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
Indy  46201
317/636-1250

El Sol de Tala Mexican on Urbanspoon

16 comments:

  1. My current go-to for Mexican is The Tamale Place. It's a hike from the NE side of Indy, but since I work on the west side, I am delighted to have found it. It is completely chaotic, but I still love it.

    My review is here:

    http://fancypance.blogspot.com/2011/07/tamale-place.html

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  2. We love El Sol - have been going there for many years. I agree that for some reason the chips have gone down hill (they used to be better). They do have their times that are busy - I've found Friday nights and the after church crowd on Sunday are the busiest. My husband and I actually had our rehearsal dinner there about 2 years ago and they were very accommodating; we had about 50 people in the balcony and it was wonderful. Thanks for the review!

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  3. When I get the yen for Mexican cuisine, El Sol has been my "go to" place for years. It is in my opinion the best Mexican food in town.

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  4. Always love the dollar tacos & guac at Adobo!

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  5. I think you and I have already exchanged a few posts on the Adobo Grill, but for me they are still making some of the more interesting, not so Mexican-by-numbers food in the area.

    I *did* recently have a very good lunch at the 2nd Red Habanero location (this one is farther East on 96th, in the defunct Bodegon location - by PepBoys and WalMart). The star of the show was when I asked for hot sauce and was presented with a plate containing a trio of housemade sauces. Outstanding! The rest of the menu was fairly typical, but they really brought it to another level and made me a happy camper.

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  6. Our comfortable standby is Hacienda at Binford and 71st St. We really like La Piedad in Broad Ripple, but now that it's gotten popular we mainly do take out from them.

    A couple of weeks ago I went to Tortas Guicho Dominguez y el Cubanito near Fountain Square for lunch, it was outstanding and got a big thumbs up from my Guatemalan friend.

    Also, this past Saturday evening we went to Casa Grande in Castleton (they recently took over the old Max & Erma's behind the mall) to see what it was like. We were thrilled, a much better option than On the Border. Big menu, excellent services, the food was very good, and they did a good job re-decorating the building. Definitely worth a look :)

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  7. I haven't found anything better than El So De Tala in this city (or other cities). I discovered this place though a "Duffy's diner" review many years ago. Boy, I'm glad I did or I would have just thought that all Mexican food , as you say, "uses only like 5-6 ingredients". I know the neighborhood is a bit "dodgy" but I've never had problems. Some of the best food can be found in these types of places that aren't pretentious and survive soley because of the great food and not the aesthetics. Fortunately the owner Javier Amezcua has owned this for the long haul and has kept it in the family and tries new and different recipes. Unfortunately Javier could use a better staff and I attribute this to the lack of patrons, definately not the food. As they say, good things come to those who wait. I'd rather get great food and wait a little longer than have a waiter/waitress quickly plop down a plate of "same ol'-same ol'" over processed Mexican food in front of me. I will be one of the the people who goes there despite not being a large over crowded commercialized restaurant.

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  8. Sarah- thanks for teh recommendation. Sounds good.

    Heather-yes, the first time I went with was a larger group and we sat upstairs. They brought of lots of different things to try and it was good. It was also a lot busier then and I think it was also a Friday.

    Jeff- I would probably check it out more often too, except it is a little far.

    beffuh and Tom H.- I need to go back to Adobo I think. I did have some nice ceviche at Zoobilation. I would like to try it again one of these days. Although, I think El Sol's guac is better (even though Adobo's is good as well). And Tom, Red Habanero has been on my list. I like the sound of homemade sauces.

    John- La Hacienda on Binford is our "usual" too. I really enjoy certain things there (mainly margaritas and chip and salsa) but I do find their food to be very similar stuff just wrapped differently. I do really like their chicken soup. Thanks for the heads up on Casa Grande. I just drove by it this morning and was wondering about it. I will have to check it out soon.

    Bean62- Thanks for your comments. I actually didn't have a problem with the speed of the service (and I agree sometimes Mexican places are a little too fast), they just were a little grumpy. I do appreciate the creativity shown at El Sol.

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  9. I'm also a big fan of La Hacienda on Binford, and recently been highly impressed with Riviera Maya on 116th in downtown Fishers. Very excellent service, clean, and tasty chips!

    I'll be interested to hear your review of Casa Grande, haven't been there yet but it sounds promising.

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  10. El Sol is quite good...however...and I echo other suggestions...there are some outstanding restaurants serving very interesting foods of Mexican ilk..

    My spelling may be off a bit..

    El Puerto de San Blas ( 38th and Laf mexican sea food, excellent ceviche)

    Los Chilaquiles 38th Lafayette
    ( 'ritas..ask for fresh squeezed lime and lemon with their homemade honey for sweetener)

    The above are near Saraga two birds...one stone

    La Escarolla (seafood and awesome HOT sauce) and El Jaripeo (ritas) E Wash

    Oaxaca 30th and MLK

    La Parada 1600 E NY

    Pollo Allegre KILLER chicken and housemade salsa English and Sherman

    Taqueria Monterrey the best Tortas (house baked bread daily) and housemade ice cream and fresh juices.. 1900 Southeastern

    Birreria Ocotlan...THE BOMB goat soup...also have cow lips and cheek..great tortas as well. 2700 Southeastern...I think

    Mexican Inn..excellent stews and the Fried Quail is to die for...superb mole..average tacos..Rural and Mich.

    OOPs getting carried away ! sorry for the long list...all are well worth the drive and there really are many others I could list

    some have superb 'ritas...e.g. Jaripeo and Los Chillaquiles (ask for fresh squeezed lime and lemon with their homemade honey for sweetener)

    Enjoy !

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  11. My wife and I have been to Pancho's Taqueria on 96th street and Allisonville quite a few times and have always been happy. We've not had the margaritas (we usually go for lunch during the work day), and you have to order a side of chips, they don't come with every order, although they are freshly made. The mole enchiladas are fantastic, as are the al pastor tacos and carnitas. There seem to be better tamales in the city, but everything else has been outstanding.

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  12. Elizabeth and Josh, thanks for the recommendations. And sounds like there are enough of us hanging out at La Hacienda to keep it going huh?

    Lorand, wow! thanks for all the suggestions. I am just going to copy and paste them all into my list!

    thanks,
    Erin

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  13. The Tamale Place off Rockville on the west side is by far my fave. Everything is super fresh. Don't get your heart set on a certain tamale because they run out frequently. I love that they make their own chips too. I will never again make my own at home this place is too darn good. I recommend calling ahead to order so it's ready for you. Love your blog Erin!

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  14. This discussion about Mexican Food is kind of lost. Mexican culture in Indy is new as well as its cuisine. What we find in indy it's just cuisine for beginners or amateurs. I have had two horrific experiences trying to eat Mexican Food: Acapulco Joe and Sol de Tala. Acapulco Joe does not deserve a commentary: how can I critize the flavor of cardboard? Sol de tala modified a bad menu and made it worst. The name of the consultant chef is Dudley Nieto. His name is famous in Chicago because he opens more restaurants than Emeril, but he closes more than the Chicago Health Department. So what he did in Sol de Tala he has done it in about a dozen places in Chicago and all of them have failed. The food in Sol de Tala is disgusting, it is made for anglophones without a sense of taste nor culinary history... It sounds inappropriate, but for a Mexican palate, Sol de tala tastes like a hamburger from McDonald's (everything created in a laboratory). Most of its components are artificial starting with Margaritas and following with the guacamole; entrées should not even be consided Mexican... As you all might know, most Mexican places use sour cream, cheese and mild salsa for gringos and they might love that shit, but that is not Mexican... Real Mexican food is more creative. The nahuatl culture was well advanced in their knowledge of nutritions than the Spaniards; nonetheless, what we get in Indy as Mexican Food it's just crap...

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  15. Interesting take la18enpilsen has on the Mexican food scene in Indy...or the lack thereof !

    Perhaps he might offer some suggestions ? If not in the area...perhaps in other cities ?

    While the food here may be crap..I still respect the efforts of entrepreneurs who work very hard to make these places a success. I enjoy watching caring and enthusiastic owners and staff work their magic.

    I cannot imagine the challenges and difficulties these business owners face...and if they make "adjustments" to the food to keep the doors open...cool.

    I can't profess to know what authentic is...and my culinary history is more East European and Lucky Charms...but...I enjoy what our local restauranteurs are putting in front of me....and I think things are getting much better with the Indy culinary scene.

    Hey ! At least the Chi's Chi's are gone !

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  16. I just found your blog. Lots of reviews for me to read! I have never liked El Sol and have wondered why it gets such a passionate following. Its been so long since I went there that I can't give any specifics on the food.

    I know you and alot of others don't like Acapulco Joes but I still enjoy going there. No, it's probably not as good as 'authentic' but so what, I like it. I always get the 3 Nachos there.

    There is a place alot of my coworkers love. I can't think of the name but it's on East St. next to I-70, next to a gas station and behind the Burger King. They sell alot of things, but $1 tacos on Wednesdays is everyone's favorite. It seems pretty authentic judging from the non English speaking clientele that always seems to be eating there. The sign outside gives to indication really of what they are; it says something like 'food'. The tacos are soft shell.

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Thanks, Erin