Don’t judge Mexico City Taqueria by its cover. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Tucked out of the way in Jeffersonville, in the space once occupied by a Quizno’s, Mexico City Taqueria & Restaurant looks on the outside like a murky hole-in-the-wall. But open the front door, and you walk into a sea of Latin color.

Really, it’s a striking transition from the parking lot of the strip mall the taqueria rests in, behind a gas station and across the street from a dive bar called the 19th Green — one minute, you’re surrounded by concrete and car exhaust, and the next you’re awash in multi-colored walls, in which every table and chair in the place is a work of art.

Sort of lets you know how Dorothy felt when she woke up in Oz after the tornado.

There’s no shortage of color inside the restaurant. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The narrow restaurant is clean and well-kept, with a cooler of soda and beer on one wall, and rows of tables on the other and in the center. Colorful paintings intersperse with old black-and-white photos, each one celebrating Mexico in some way.

I showed up ahead of the lunch rush on a recent weekday — and as the place filled up around me, I was glad I did. I was immediately met with friendly service and complimentary chips and salsa.

The chips were warm and fresh, while the salsa was cilantro-forward and tasty, with big tomato chunks, citrusy, mild and bright.

The menu is quite large, with everything from plate meals, such as three tacos with beans and rice, lunch specials, burritos, tortas, sopes and the like. On weekends, you can get traditional Mexican soups like caldos de camarones, menudo, pozole and others. The menu even highlights a few vegetarian combinations, and you also can get beer, micheladas, margaritas and more.

My attention quickly turned to a small label dubbed “Antojos,” or “Cravings.” It essentially serves as kind of an a la carte, or quick bites, menu with basic items like single tamales, tostadas chalupas and small quesadillas. My intrigue led me to ordering a chile poblano to go with a pair of a la carte tacos, one with lengua and one with chorizo.

Chile poblano | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The wait wasn’t long, even though the place was beginning to get busier, and as soon as my server placed the poblano pepper before me, I knew it was going to be a challenge to finish what I’d ordered, especially given that I had already torn through a bowl and a half of salsa.

The poblano looked nearly as big as my forearm, a good 5 or 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. It was smothered in red enchilada sauce and topped with shredded white cheese.

The tacos came in doubled-up corn tortillas — you have the option to get flour — that were cooked soft and served with two lime wedges.

But it was the poblano that had me salivating, so I cut off the first bite with my fork to learn that the pepper was stuffed with melted white cheese as well (the menu had indicated it was just topped). And it was a lot of cheese.

But the mild pepper was a nice foil to the sneakily spicy sauce, and the cheese helped give it a welcome creaminess. Quite good.

The lengua taco was about what I expected, topped with onions and cilantro (you can also get “deluxe” tacos that are Americanized with lettuce and tomatoes), with a medium amount of cubed beef tongue. The lengua was tender and nicely prepared, with a rich beef flavor.

It wasn’t the best lengua taco I’ve had in town, but for the $2.29 price tag, I wasn’t about to complain.

Don’t sleep on the tasty tacos. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The chorizo taco was stuffed with a bit more meat than the first taco, with flavorful and spicy sausage that wasn’t greasy like some chorizo you get in a taqueria. What that meant was that I got the flavor I sought, without the orange streaks running down my hands and face.

The tacos also came with choices of three sauces — a medium-spicy verde, a spicy roja and a creamy avocado-based sauce. They weren’t special, but they were on point enough to add a nice touch to the tacos. The chorizo and roja worked especially well together to amp up the spice and flavor.

Add in a bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola, and when it was all said and done, my lunch was $10 and some change, a bargain given all the food I’d been served. Well worth it, and Mexico City Taqueria — which my server told me has been under new ownership for about three months — is a quick jaunt off I-65 at Exit 4.

Mexico City Taqueria & Restaurant, located at 3826 Hamburg Pike, is open 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

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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