I went into mourning a few years back when Taqueria Mercado closed its Erlanger branch, which was my favorite place to inhale the steam from a bowl of Caldo de 7 Mares or sneak in an early cerveza. Sure, there’s the Fairfield location, but that’s further than I’ll travel even when carnitas are calling.
Luckily, I’ve found two new spots that, while off the beaten path, make authentic, truly delicious, simple lunches.
The first one is way off the beaten path but absolutely amazing. My friends and fellow foodies Toby and Dan introduced me to Abuelitos de Dios on US 25 between Florence and Richwood, close to the flea market (10136 Dixie Hwy., Florence; 859-746-8150). Dan is a nurse who speaks fluent Spanish and a grateful patient had brought him a package of tamales, filled with seasoned pork and carefully wrapped in corn husks, from Abuelitos de Dios. Dan could hardly wait to go back for more, and I could hardly wait to be invited along.
The mismatched chairs and tiny tables at Abuelitos are behind racks of groceries, from tall blessed candles to boxes of fresh avocadoes and a cooler packed with Modelo Especial and Jarritos soda.
Members of the staff speak little to no English, and their children politely color and play at a corner table while they work. Food is served on paper plates with the bare minimum of utensils, but when you taste it — oh, yes! Barbacoa cooked from fat beef cheeks, carnitas made from slow-roasted pork shoulder seasoned with Mexican peppers and of course those tamales, steamed and ready to be topped with salsa verde. Superb. The cooks at Abuelitos supply some other local eateries with meat, which you can buy by the pound to carry out once you’ve become addicted to it.
El Valle Verde (6717 Vine St., Elmwood Place; 513-821- 5400) is our second new find. It’s housed in (my guess) a classic old chili parlor, complete with a pressed tin ceiling and some of the original diner tables, with a grocery next door and a Spanish storefront church on the other side.
While the menu is Mexican, I think the owners may be Guatemalan, as are many of the guests. If you are jonesing for a burrito fix, this is the place. The ratio of meat to other about 80/20, and even the chicken is excellent — flavorful and juicy. They also serve a mean shrimp quesadilla, alongside salad and a generous scoop of homemade guacamole.
But my favorite? Tacos al pastor! Al pastor is pork cooked like shawarma or gyros and seasoned with adobe chilis, citrus and pineapple, skewered, and seared on a rotisserie. At Valle Verde, the tacos overflow with meat, chopped onion and fresh cilantro, and two is enough to fill you right up for a grand price of $1.99 each.
When you write about dining, you get a lot of questions from people who want to know where the hidden dining treasures are in Cincinnati. These taquerias are the kind of gems I feel lucky to know about. And now you do, too.
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