By Todd Barron @ FoodieCuisine.com
I am riding in the car and mention the new Mexican restaurant on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock named Taqueria El Palenque. From the back seat I hear, “What do you mean by finally, an authentic Mexican place in West Little Rock?” The answer is simple, most Mexican places in the United States are not “real” Mexican restaurants. Their food is usually very bland, their hot sauce is no hotter than ketchup with some Tobasco sauce in it, and everything is covered in mounds of cheese. I don’t like to call out Tobasco here as they have a good sauce, but too often, it is paired with horrible “Mexican” food from these dispensaries of culinary disaster.
The competitors better catch up because places such as Taqueria El Palenque are opening more often and their food is not bland, is not covered in cheese, and they provide sauces with serious spicy-kick to them. For my visit I order the carne asada (beef) taco, the carnitas (pork) taco, and the spinach & mushroom quesadilla. I order the queso (cheese dip) just to see what they bring out. Cheese dip is not something I have ever seen on my trips to Mexico so I am curious what will transpire. I suspect they have it on the menu to appease local tastes.
The cheese dip comes out and is very thin without much flavor. The warm homemade salsa they bring though is tasty and has a nice heat level to it. I have had better, but it is far and above better than what you find at most competitors.
My tacos arrive next and look like what I expect. They are grilled flour tortillas, laid flat (not fried,) with the meat in the center along with some grilled onions and cilantro. And you know what is missing? Cheese! That’s right, not a shred of cheese in sight. This makes me VERY happy. The lime on the side adds some nice acidity to the tacos as well. What really sets them apart are the two sauces they bring for you to add on your own. The green sauce is not spicy hot but has mounds of flavor. The red sauce is quite hot, which fits my tastes perfectly, and also has a lot of flavor. The tacos themselves are not super amazing, but with the sauces, they are.
My quesadilla arrives next and is huge. I was expecting a thin quesadilla with questionable amount of spinach but received a stuffed quesadilla brimming with spinach, mushrooms, green peppers, and cheese instead. It also has a lot of flavor, with the cheese really offsetting the bitterness of the peppers, and the spinach helping pull everything together. I add copious amounts of both the green and red sauces to each bite for that extra kick of flavor.
One of the best parts of the meal is how affordable everything is. The tacos are less than $2 each and the most expensive item I had, the quesadilla, was under $7 and could easily feed two people. If you are close to Layla’s on Rodney Parham, swing by and at least try a taco. Don’t forget the sauce!