La Sierra Tarasca is a Mexican restaurant paired with a market. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

For whatever reason, I can’t resist Mexican restaurants that have a grocery attached. There’s something quaint about the idea that you can shop for produce and meat, then stop next door for tacos or a torta.

La Sierra Tarasca is one such establishment I recently found in Okolona and had to try out. True to form, it was a whole experience, with the grocery side offering up everything from Manzano peppers to fresh chorizo and ready-made meals for carryout, and the restaurant portion serving quality Mexican food on the cheap.

There’s plenty of color and space at La Sierra Tarasca. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

I met my friend Sarah there for lunch recently, and after we’d filled our shopping basket and paid, we settled into the spacious and colorful restaurant side — there is actually a Subway between the two related businesses, so it could be confusing if you aren’t paying attention — to fill our bellies.

La Sierra Tarasca has a few lunch specials, but this isn’t a place where you’ll get a Speedy Gonzalez. No, Sarah jumped on the torta special, which came with a traditional Mexican sandwich with a side. She chose fries over beans or rice, but it was her choice of meat that stole the show: milanesa de res, a pounded beef that is seasoned and fried.

For my part, I couldn’t get away from the traditional tacos, and one in particular caught my eye. That taco was a taco campechano, which is filled with a variety of meats blended together. I couldn’t resist, and I also ordered tacos with chorizo, lengua and barbacoa. When I told our friendly server my order, she made clarification.

“Large tortillas or small?” she asked. I replied small.

“Onions and cilantro?” she said. Yes. I guess she didn’t want to take a chance that I was expecting Americanized, crunchy tacos with lettuce and tomatoes. I appreciated her thoroughness.

Torta with Milanesa de res | Photo by Kevin Gibson

We settled in with a pair of Mexican Cokes and the fresh chips and salsa our server brought to the table. The main salsa was fairly basic but clearly fresh, with big chunks of tomato and onion, plenty of cilantro, and a hint of spicy kick.

But the winner was a green, avocado and jalapeño sauce that was spicy with a bright peppery flavor and creamy body. It was delicious with chips and on my tacos, and I confessed to Sarah that I wouldn’t mind finishing off what was left with a straw.

But the main part of our meals wasn’t far from arriving. Sarah’s sandwich was medium to large, and topped with lettuce, tomato, beans and avocado, with an ample portion of crispy fried crinkle-cut french fries.

The sandwich was served on a grilled bun, but it was the crisp-fried, seasoned meat that gave the sandwich its flavor.

The spices weren’t extravagant by any means, but the salt and pepper that blended with the char from frying made the edges of the meat satisfying in only the way a guilty pleasure can. It reminded me vaguely of my mom’s breaded and fried minute steaks, which she would overcook just a tad, creating crispy bits of crust. It was even a bit on the chewy side, just like Mom’s.

My tacos were the expected street-style classics, served in double corn tortillas, topped with plenty of fresh, chopped onions, cilantro and garnished with lime wedges and radish slices. The barbacoa was nicely marinated beef, spiced and tender, while the lengua, or beef tongue, had the classic rich flavor and tenderness that makes Mexican-style lengua a favorite.

Tacos aplenty at La Sierra Tarasca in Okolona. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The chorizo was surprisingly mild, with an odd flavor I wasn’t expecting — there almost seemed to be a sweetness to it, when typically chorizo is spicier. I even grabbed a few pieces of the meat separate from the other ingredients to make sure my taste buds weren’t being fooled by something else.

Not a complaint, as I gobbled it up, but it was simply a bit different from what I usually get from chorizo.

While these types of tacos are well-known to my palate, I have to say the taco campechano was something new, and I’m glad I ordered it. I identified slices of beef and chunks of chorizo, but there were other flavors and textures as well. Chicharron, or pork skin, is often an ingredient in these tacos, but I didn’t find that in this one.

Regardless, the blend took on a flavor profile all its own, with a nice bonus being that the flavor would differ slightly from bite to bite, depending on what meats I was getting at the time. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to having another in the near future.

One of the best parts of the meal was that I was stuffed after the chips, salsa, four tacos and Coke, and my lunch came to under $12. You have to love $2 tacos. Sarah’s lunch was just $7.50, and that included her having leftovers to take home.

There’s plenty on the menu, and the restaurant’s website says it is known for its tamales.

La Sierra Tarasca, located at 6501 Shepherdsville Road, lists hours as 9 a.m.-9 p.m., seven days per week.

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Kevin Gibson covers everything from food to music to beer to bourbon. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono (pissed her off a little, too). Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he co-hosts a local radio show and plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies. Check out his blog, 502Brews.com, or feel free to call him names on Twitter: @kgramone.


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