Who can resist great Mexican food? A chip loaded with fresh guacamole? The smell of sizzling fajitas? A frosty pitcher of margaritas? Not this vegetarian! The problem is that sometimes Mexican restaurants forget about us herbivores and slip meat in between the cracks of their menu. Well, luckily, if you are vegetarian and live in the Northwest United States, you now have the option of El Tapatio.
Let’s meet the maker: The founder and owner of the El Tapatio restaurant chain is a man named Efren Guitron. Though El Tapatio only recently became a vegetarian-friendly smorgasbord, the brand actually has a long history. Guitron grew up in rural Mexico, in a tiny village called Cuautla in the state of Jalisco. Nestled between Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara, Cuautla is so small, it is sometimes not even included on maps of the region. Guitron moved to the United States in 1970, hoping to create a new life. He went to Seattle, Washington, to work for some relatives in their restaurant. That was the beginning of a long, passionate career. He spent ten years working at that restaurant, learning everything he could about running a business and making delicious Mexican food for US diners. He was shown old family recipes for regional dishes that had been passed down through the generations. After ten years, he opened his first El Tapatio restaurant in the fall of 1980 in Milwaukie, Oregon. It was not an overnight success. Guitron spent five years working the restaurant all by himself. He was the greeter, the chef, the server and the dishwasher all wrapped up into one. Despite the overwhelming workload, he made a commitment to always serve amazing food and create a great atmosphere. After five years, his restaurant was so popular that he had lines of people waiting outside to get a table. He gradually expanded, first by hiring his wife to work alongside him, then by hiring other staff and opening new locations. Today, after nearly 40 years in business, El Tapatio has 16 locations across California, Oregon and Washington. And they are so popular, they are planning to continue expanding. Despite the growth, Guitron still firmly believes in his family recipes and wants each diner to feel like they are getting the personal attention he gave his customers when the restaurant first opened. The result is delicious and welcoming. No wonder El Tapatio is more popular than ever!
So, how ’bout that menu?
El Tapatio cares about quality. The recipes are authentic, the ingredients are high-grade, the preparation is fresh and the restaurants are colorful and friendly. The owner and his staff say they want a meal at El Tapatio to feel like a visit to your grandmother’s house. All of these commitments explain why El Tapatio has flourished. However, until recently, it was less welcoming to vegetarian customers. Thankfully, that has changed. The biggest problems for vegetarians at Mexican restaurants are the culture of meat in Mexico and all of the lard. Authentic Mexican is delicious, it’s amazing, it’s also usually all about the meat. However El Tapatio has made a point of including vegetarian options throughout the menu. There is a good selection of appetizers, including guacamole and cheese quesadillas. There are vegetarian salads, and other salad options that could be ordered without the featured meat since everything is made fresh. I would recommend the New Cancun Salad which has lettuce, avocado and pepitas topped with pico de gallo, cheese, tortilla strips and their homemade chipotle vinaigrette dressing. They have a few options for vegetarian burritos, and enchiladas, as well as chiles rellenos, huevos rancheros, and fajitas. For a twist, the veggie burrito comes with broccoli and cauliflower inside, along with carrots, onions and bell peppers. Be sure to look at the spinach enchiladas as well; they are smothered in homemade salsa verde, then served with avocado, mushrooms and tomato. You might look at these options and think “well, yeah. Isn’t that basically the same as every other Mexican restaurant?” But you would be forgetting about the lard. Lard is used in loads of traditional Mexican recipes, especially anything that comes with refried beans. Which is every main dish on the menu at El Tapatio. However, a few years ago they decided it was time to revise their menu and make it healthier. They changed the way they prepared and cooked their meats, they switched from processed salt to sea salt and they decided to eliminate the lard from all of their dishes. They now use vegetable oil and canola oil for any recipes that used to contain lard. And because this was a very conscientious project, they took time fiddling with all of their recipes to make sure they would all still taste amazing, no matter what fats were being used. This had the combined benefit of making their entire menu healthier and more welcoming to vegetarian customers.
Well, that deserves a toast!
If you are a vegetarian who also happens to be over 21 years old, check out the cantina at El Tapatio where they make and serve the adult beverages. They have a selection of beers on tap, over 50 varieties of tequila and an assortment of mixed drinks and cocktails. Of course, the star of the drinks menu is the sweet and salty margarita. El Tapatio claim to make the “best house margarita in town,” so be sure to check it out.
Why not see for yourself?
El Tapatio deserves a thumbs up from its vegetarian customers. Although there are more meat and fish dishes than vegetarian dishes on the menu, they still have a lot of veggie options. And eliminating lard from all of their recipes means vegetarians can relax and enjoy their meal with no risk of surprise meat in the beans. Fresh food, family recipes, a friendly atmosphere and quality ingredients, what’s not to like? Find the nearest El Tapatio location and more information about their quality commitments and menu by visiting their website: www.eltapatiocuisine.com.