Taco Heaven at Franco’s

Yeah, yeah: I know that maybe, just maybe, you follow what we do outside of this website. If you do, then you’ve probably seen John’s article for WHYY Newsworks about the phenomenon of Mexican “mom-and-pops” serving their own home cooking, instead of Tex Mex smothered in salty salsa or gloppy cheese. One of the restaurants he featured to state his case was Franco’s Taqueria in Riverside. John and I made a pilgrimage over there with the kids one Saturday, and it’s time that the full foodie story was told: that is, how very good it is.

We had an incredibly warm welcome from the owner, Franco Ordonez, who helped us to settle us all in right away, despite the restaurant being essentially a counter-service setup. It was sparsely decorated, yet clean and bright: a good sign that the kitchen is more interested in convincing you of its authenticity through its food, instead of a decor that hurls all the American cliches of Mexico at you.Admittedly, the taqueria has had to adapt to cater  to the non-Hispanic community, which is reflected in the menu. Although you’ll find an array of predictable staples such as quesadillas, burritos and chimichangas, they are made with the conscious intention of representing the mindset of the home cooking of Mexico: everything fresh, everything handmade.

Our kids can be adventurous, but that day they insisted on ordering the American kiddie favorite, quesadillas. Absolutely no complaints here, and it was nice to see they were given a hit of queso fresco, so our little budding foodies got to taste something a little different. As for the grownup delights, we kept it simple, just a few taco platters to get a lay of the land. The chorizo was perfect-spicy, rich sausage chopped and sauteed enough to get those slight bits of crispy heaven around the edges, while the marinated pork  was incredibly tender and juicy. Both were in  warm corn tortillas with a sprinkling of chopped onion and cilantro-add a little squirt of lime and you have nirvana, no salsa necessary. But it got even better when the sweet plantains arrived, out of the pan, caramelized and luscious. I have my favorite Mexican and Cuban restaurants, and I love ordering their plantains, but these were transcendent. Wow. We also washed it down with aromatic homemade horchata (a cinnamon rice milk drink). What’s not to like?

It’s obvious we’re going to have to go back for dinner to try some of the main dishes, such as the Carne Asada (a mojo marinated steak), whole fried fish, or Shrimp A La Beracruzana (with garlic and chipotle sauce). The menu may not be exotic, but it is honest and true to form. Of course, it’s also simply delicious.

24 East Scott Street, Riverside. (856) 255-5211. http://francostaqueria.com



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