Monday, November 7, 2011

Felipe's Taqueria

Chips, salsa, tacos, burritos and margaritas. This simple recipe of success is a proven winner for creating a profitable restaurant in almost any city in America. Even though Italian food may be the #1 cuisine of choice worldwide, I would venture to say that Mexican cuisine, at least in the United States, appeals most to both consumer and restaurateur. The low food cost of beans, rice, and tortilla chips allows restaurants to pass along those low prices to diners (who are also rewarded with large portions), and the festive connotation encourages consumption of mas cervezas y margaritas, which pushes up the check average. Everybody wins.

Except for one thing - the food almost always disappoints. For some reason, restaurants believe (and consumers accept) that just because the food is cheap it's OK that it doesn't taste very good.

Thankfully, Felipe's does not subscribe to that school of thought.

Upon entering Felipe's the uninitiated would think that this is your typical run-of-the-mill burrito shop, until you notice a woman hand-sorting black beans behind the counter or a pair of prep cooks dicing onions and chopping cilantro. Don't let the cafeteria style service fool you, Felipe's serves better food than 95% of the full service Mexican restaurants in the city and at half the price. I might venture to say that there are very few places in the city where 2 people can eat this well for under $20. With the French Quarter location just a 15 minute walk or 5 minute drive from our apartment, The Folk Singer and I have come to appreciate the budget-conscious menu as often as 3 or 4 times per month.

The menu lists 8 different protein selections, all of which are stuffed in various tortilla delivery systems. Some of the protein choices deserve more attention than others. I find the fish and shrimp (both fried) to be suitable only for vegetarians and the carnitas inconsistently dry. Instead I go for the spicy ground chorizo, succulent al pastor marinated in pineapple, and chicken tinga stewed in spicy chipotle sauce.

My vessel of choice is the quesadilla (pictured above), griddled until the tortilla blisters and the Monterrey jack cheese melts, then filled with toppings of your choice, before folded on opposite sides into a thin, crispy rectangular package. This $5 (taxes included) lunch may not be a foot long, but it has miles of flavor. Tacos are double wrapped in corn tortillas warmed on the griddle. Sliced Monterrey jack is either melted on top of warm tortilla chips in the salamander for nachos or steamed inside of a pliable tortilla for burritos. Not exactly how they do it in Puebla or Mexico City, but who are we to judge.

Toppings range from a simple scattering of cilantro and onions to a colorful salsa bar at your disposal. Guacamole is made in house and is more of a smooth dip as opposed to a chunky avocado salad. Black beans and pinto beans are available in either whole or refried form. As a four year resident of Texas, I consider myself an authority on queso, and I can say that Felipe's comes closest to my favorite versions served in Austin.

In my personal experience, the French Quarter location serves better food than the one in Broadmoor, but I could be biased because of proximity to both home and office. Undoubtedly though, the French Quarter has a much better and more spacious bar area, which is sectioned off enough from the serving line that it has its own crowd of regulars who come for the cheap beers and well-mixed margaritas. You can't beat $2.50 draft Dos Equis on Thursday.

The post-Katrina explosion of Hispanic eateries had us all rejoicing both for an influx of more authentic Mexican, Latin, and Central American food and for the corresponding death knell of the faux cuisine which stood in its place before the storm. Last time I checked though, I was the only gringo standing in line at Ideal Market while Pancho's parking lot is full every night. While Felipe's does not pretend to be the definitive word in authentic Mexican cuisine, its food just goes to show that cheap can still be delicious.

Felipe's Taqueria - Birdie

French Quarter
301 N. Peters Street
(504) 267-4406
Open at 11am daily. Sun-Tues till 12am; Wed-Thur till 1am; Fri-Sat till 3am.

6215 S. Miro Street
(504) 309-2776
Open at 11am daily. Sun-Wed till 10pm; Thu-Sat till 11pm.


Fleurdelicious said...

I agree, Felipe's is our favorite spot for downtown eating during the work week. I think their chicken nachos are stellar and when I don't want something too heavy, their marinated and grilled veggies are delicious piled atop a tostada with refried beans. And at $4 (with tip) I think that's smart in more ways than one. I will try your quesadilla with chorizo option next time I'm a bit hungover. That sounds awesome.

Alison said...

Totally agree with you about how delicious/what a wonderful deal Felipe's is. I am severely missing it right now! While this sounds crazy given how amazing their burritos are, I think my favorite thing is the tortilla soup. It's totally different than the too heavy, throw-everything-in-a-pot type versions I've had elsewhere: it has a light and flavorful chicken broth mixed with chicken, veggies, avocado and tortilla strips, topped with cotija cheese. Pure heaven!

Nora said...

I go to both the Uptown and the FQ locations for lunch pretty frequently - the food is cheap, quick, and simply soul satisfying. I always get the carnitas, and while occasionally it will be crispier/drier, it is pretty consistently tasty, tender, and delicious. It has been somewhat of a delicious secret shame for me, so I'm pretty happy to see you guys give it a thumbs up. HOORAY VALIDATION!

I always go the non-alcoholic route because I love their key limeade.