The long-anticipated St. Matthews location of El Taco Luchador is open, and the eager crowds have already made it a go-to spot in an already crowded neighborhood, with go-to spots such as Spinelli’s, Mellow Mushroom, Highland Morning and many others within easy walking distance.
I stopped by for lunch on a recent Saturday and found the place buzzing with activity — the patio dining area was full, the two window areas with bar seating were full, and people stood by awaiting their orders.
One family spread a blanket out on the front yard of the small building, which previously was home to Meridian Café, and ate their Mexican fare there as customers walked past, coming and going.
To sum it up, the new location of El Taco Luchador is much like the original in the Highlands, with a familiar menu and the same bright and colorful décor.
And for those who love their El Taco Luchador, part of the Olé Restaurant Group (which includes Mussel & Burger Bar, Artesano Tapas and others), the food is pretty much exactly the same, based on my previous experience.
The problem for me personally is that I never really found anything at El Taco Luchador that I liked. I hadn’t been back in several years before my visit to the St. Matthews location to give it another try. And, other than the super chunky guacamole, I still haven’t found anything I particularly like.
We arrived at a good time, in that the lunch rush was just about to end, so we had little trouble finding seats in one of the window bays looking toward Shelbyville Road. But be careful if you sit in one of these two areas, because there is an unexpected step down as you enter.
I watched someone sitting next to us trip twice while going to get utensils and such. I tripped once myself. And my girlfriend, Cynthia, found another such “trap” near the women’s restroom that caused her to trip and nearly fall. So, be aware of your surroundings.
Anyway, the service at the counter (El Taco Luchador is fast-casual) was supremely friendly, with a bright menu just above the order station and employees ready to help and direct you where to get everything you need, from drinks to salsas.
We got an order of guacamole and chips, plus two tacos each for our lunch, took our number, then made our way to our seats. Along the way, we were confused as to why most of the table numbers around the place were on metal stands and ours wasn’t.
“Are we supposed to stand and hold this until they find us,” Cynthia wondered aloud. Then, when we sat, we realized the holders are stationed around the dining room, waiting for you to slip the plastic number card into them. Got it.
Our food arrived in under 10 minutes, which wasn’t bad considering the rush they’d just faced. But when I went to look for salsa, only one of the flavors was available, as apparently the bottles were scattered around the place. The salsa de arbol I sought was not to be found, so I decided to eat my tacos sauce-free. Also, Cynthia got a lime with her tacos, and I didn’t. Fortunately, she was happy to share.
The guac actually came to us after the tacos, which sort of defeated the purpose of ordering an appetizer, but it made for a fine side. And, boy, was that guacamole fresh, with huge hunks of avocado and hand-cut chunks of onion and pepper. Delicious, and the salty, thin chips were a nice vehicle, even though they, at times, couldn’t handle the sizable chunks. That’s not a complaint.
My tacos, however, were nothing memorable. While my pastor taco had chunks of fresh, tasty pineapple, the hunks of pork were on the chewy side, and the flavor was just solid, if forgettable.
There was plenty of it, however — tacos are amply stuffed at El Taco Luchador, so you get your money’s worth. Meanwhile, my tinga taco, which featured braised chicken with pico, crema and queso fresco, and topped nicely with shredded radish, had very little flavor.
Once I finally tracked down a bottle of arbol sauce — which was earthy and just spicy enough — it improved greatly, but on its own it was, like the pastor taco, forgettable.
Cynthia had ordered a fish taco, which was a plump strip of beer-battered cod that could have come from an Irish pub, topped with pickled red cabbage and an aioli, and it was pretty good. But she raved about the Vegetariano, a veggie taco stuffed with corn-roasted poblano, onions, black beans, plantains, guacamole and more.
Maybe I should have gotten one of those, even as a meat-eater, because it looked delicious.
I don’t want to say El Taco Luchador doesn’t live up to the hype and sterling reviews it gets online, but I see it as pseudo-upscale Mexican that is purposely Americanized for a specific audience. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s certainly worth your stop, but give me an old-fashioned, frills-free lengua or chorizo taco any day. And the lines are usually shorter at taquerias anyway.
El Taco Luchador, located at 112 Meridian Ave., is open weekdays 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (except Wednesdays, which has a 2 p.m. close), and Saturday, noon-3:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. The restaurant is closed Sunday.