Raul's Taco Town Tastefully Balanced Between Mexican Spectacle and Delicious Food
Cowboy hats, piñatas and Mariachi music complement an authentic, enjoyable meal at newly-opened Elm Street restaurant.
There are three types of Mexican restaurants.
The first is an authentic, albeit simple eatery. No one is trying to sell you Mexico there, they just want you to buy and enjoy their food (If you're an ignorant gringo such as myself, you may think of those Latin restaurants on Speedwell Avenue as Mexican, but as a reader pointed out, these are of another Latin stripe).
There is the Mexican-light establishment, such as Tito's Burritos or Yo & Papa, which can be placed somewhere in the same category as, say, Chevy's or On the Border. Here, the food may be of questionable authenticity or even appeal, and a theme tends to be of more import than the actual cuisine.
Then there is somewhere between. And, somewhere between the aforementioned South Street and Speedwell Avenue establishments, La Estacion, or Raul's Taco Town, opened for business on Oct. 1. A sister location to the popular Raul's Empanadas Town, on Morris Street near George & Martha's, La Estacion is more of a sit-down and relax place to Empanadas Town's get-and-go vibe.
That "between" vibe comes from the feeling that Raul's Taco Town is both attaching itself to a theme while providing an enjoyably authentic Mexican meal. Upon entering it is apparent, with the piñatas and various ethnic bric-a-brac on the ceiling and walls, the waiters wearing cowboy hats, the Mariachi music coming through the speakers, that this restaurant knows what people think of when they think "Mexican restaurant." But, unlike some dial-a-theme restaurants that take the most obvious stereotypes and use those to attempt authenticity, Raul's Taco Town does not feel like it's "phoning in" the authenticity, it's just playing on it as much as possible.
Were the food poor, this may be a problem. Thankfully, my meal, a grilled chicken dish with a creamy, buttery chipotle sauce, cheesy flatbread and two servings of chips and salsa (and I wonder why these jeans feel a little tight) was delicious.
First, the chips and salsa. I have heard an authentic Mexican restaurant might not serve them while you wait for your meal. Yo & Papa didn't, but that's not really authentic. La Estascion does, and they are great. The chips, likely not homemade but served warm, come with what is definitely homemade salsa–cool, refreshing, not chunky (that's pico de gallo)–they are a perfect way to whet the palette.
Feeling a bit ravenous, I decided to order an appetizer. My waiter, bedecked in his cowboy hat, quick smile and excellent but not overpowering attention to my needs, suggested the La Estacion Flat Bread, white hominy corn cake with black bean puree and "white cheese," likely something akin to mozzarella. At $3.50 it was pleasantly cheap, if a little dense for one person to eat by themselves. I mean, I could have chosen not to eat it all by myself, but ...
Next came dinner, a big but not absurdly large plate of grilled chicken smothered in a buttery, slightly spicy chipotle sauce, rice, beans and a little basic green salad.
Forget the salad, as I have never had one with one of these meals that is of any note. The rice and beans are rice and beans: serviceable, enjoyable, nothing special.
The real star is the chicken, or specifically, the sauce. Like Sweet Baby Ray's says, "the sauce is the boss." You could see the streaks of butter. This won't win any awards for health, but then again, who wants to eat that food, anyway? The pieces of tender chicken and sauce filled the mouth completely, while the smoky chipotle gave just enough kiss of kick to set off a few extra sensors in the brain. This was a complete meal.
Downing one more glass of lime-infused water, I paid my check (a reasonable $16), got up (slowly) and left for a council meeting, hoping I could go fast enough with my belly full and a desire for a delightful siesta seriously needing to get out of my head.
La Estacion/Raul's Taco Town is the Mexican experience, both in what you expect and what you don't. May it live long and successful in Morristown.