The least charming thing about the west side Taqueria del Sol is the winding, ever-present line. Year in and year out, dedicated diners nevertheless weather sticky summer afternoons and chilly winter nights for a taco fix. They also overlook the less-than-merry but efficient service integral to the TDS culture. Attempting to order a pitcher of Texas margaritas with top-shelf tequila, I am informed that the mix cannot be altered -- it's already made and no one will take the time to whip up a fresh batch.
The starter menu is succinct, limited to guacamole, cheese dip, or a salsa trio with chips. The guac is chunky avocado dappled with cilantro, tomato and garlic. The salsa trio is the crowd pleaser, with its salsa frita, roasted tomato salsa, and my favorite, a tangy tomatillo salsa verde. The cheese dip is all of the things it should be: hot, creamy, and full of fresh jalapeños.
While standing in the line, you can eavesdrop on TDS regulars recommending and rehearsing their favorite combinations of tacos. I favor the carnita and brisket, while friends tout the fish as Atlanta's best, and the Memphis as a unique twist on BBQ. Two to three tacos per person is a good rule of thumb, as each is three large to five small bites. A side of meaty charros beans or a peppery bowl of shrimp corn chowder cut into the per capita taco order.
I like the mix-and-match approach to enchiladas at TDS. Standard filling choices are cheese, rotisserie chicken or beef brisket, to be topped with a choice of pork green chili, lemon cream sauce or red beef chili. Though not on the menu, veggie options of salsa frita or salsa verde can sauce the enchiladas as well. The lemon cream sauce and chicken combination, though popular, comes off bland. I like cheese with pork green chili, chasing leftover sauce and oozing cheese with any chips that are left in the basket.
The weekly taco, chef's and seafood specials are integral to the TDS experience. The chef's special of the moment was a beef chimichanga. Oversized, it had a meat filling that was dry but rescued by an interesting red sauce. Truth be told, the specials can be hit or miss. But the enchiladas suizas, filled with grilled chicken and topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce and cheese, should be ordered whenever it appears in rotation.
Consistent in quality and convenient to Midtown and downtown, Taqueria del Sol offers a great atmosphere for a business lunch, family dinner or night out with friends. It's not surprising that devotees ignore minor irritations in favor of a familiar dining experience.
Dinner in Bed
BED (Beverage/Entertainment/Dining) has opened its third location (the others are in NYC and Miami) in the Glenn Hotel downtown. The restaurant, bar and lounge is located on the first two floors of the hotel. This sure-to-be-a-hot-spot is known for the Murphy beds upon which dinner and cocktails are served. 110 Marietta St. 404-222-7992. www.bedrestaurants.com.
Join the Grape on Wednesdays from 5-7 p.m. for specially priced "Grape Crush" wine trios, and Saturdays from noon-3 p.m. for "Saturday Grapes by the Bunch" -- four wines for $5! This ongoing event is hosted at all Grape locations (intown locations include Phipps, Midtown, and now Atlantic Station). To find the one nearest you check out: www.yourgrape.com.
Wine from the Heart
Vinocity will hold an Il Cuore wine tasting Mon., Feb. 6, 6-8 p.m. Il Cuore (say "EEL-quarry") means "The Heart" in Italian: The name is a tribute to the Italian immigrants who first planted the north coast of California to vine in the late 19th century. A hallmark of the Il Cuore style is the gentle use of oak to allow the natural fruit qualities of the grapes to become the focal point of the wines. 36 13th St. 404-870-8886. www.vinocitywinebar.com.
The Red Carpet experience -- minus Joan Rivers
Pricci rolls out the red carpet on its annual Academy Awards Night, Sun. March 5. The restaurant's chefs will create a four-course meal to commemorate the evening. Call 404-237-2941 for info and reservations. 500 Pharr Road. www.buckheadrestaurants.com/pricci.