Our Gourmet: No fancy trappings, just great MexicanJanuary 30. 2018 11:53PM
Taqueria Y Pastelitos917 Valley St., Manchester; 232-3348; www.taqueriaypastelitos.com
Hours: Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Cuisine: Authentic Mexican.
Pricing: Appetizers, $2-$15; soups, $10-$15; entrees, $7-$18.
Scores for Taqueria Y Pastelitos
Sometimes, we’ll admit, we’re put off by all that the word “gourmet” conjures: fancy foods, in fancy presentations, in fancy surroundings. Sometimes, we just want something really good to eat. That’s how we came to try Taqueria Y Pastelitos in Manchester. And to go back several times in short order.
Taqueria Y Pastelitos certainly is not fancy. It’s almost nondescript, except for its burnt yellow exterior. It has only a small sign tacked high on one wall, with its few, small windows filled with small photos of what’s offered inside.
Yellow dominates inside, too, with accents of orange, pink and green and Mexican artwork and posters on the walls. A half dozen hard orange Formica booths line the room, with one large table in the middle. The linoleum is time-worn, harkening back to the building’s days as a superette, as does a tin ceiling.
Our Gourmet (OG), the Dining Companion (DC) and the Fussbudget (FB), sat down with some trepidation on our first visit. That was dispelled quickly, as service here is friendly and informative. Music, in Spanish, wafts from the kitchen, as do the voices of those cooking, and of children. It sounds like family.
We opened with the guacamole and chips ($8). This was special stuff, with chunks of avocado and bits of tomato and onion mixed in. This is the way it’s made in Mexico, we were told. OG ordered a large horchata ($5). The frappe-sized cup was filled with ice and the horchata, a thick, creamy “milk” made by soaking rice in water. It tasted of cinnamon and vanilla and lasted the whole meal. The FB, 8, tried a mango Jarritos soda ($2). It was gone in short order.
For our dinner, OG ordered a Gorditas Combination ($10), which included three gorditas — we chose beef, al pastor and chicharron — rice, and beans. Each gordita was a hand-sized pocket of thick, fried cornmeal (masa), stuffed with the chosen meats. Each was hefty, and filling. The beef was mild, moist, tender and well shredded. The al pastor — thinly sliced pork — was spicier, and the best of the three. We didn’t especially like chicharron, at least in a gordita. We expected crispy fried pork belly or rind but it didn’t hold up well inside the steamy cornmeal pocket. It was soggy and unappealing, at least to our perhaps under-educated palate.
The DC opted for Red Enchilladas ($11) from the vegetarian menu, also with sides of rice and beans. Three red corn tortillas wrapped fresh, light, crumbly yet creamy white cheese she found delicious, topped with shredded lettuce and tomato. She especially loved the beans, which tasted slightly of cinnamon and which had whole beans as well as creamy mashed bits. She wished the restaurant offered sides of rice and beans. We expect it would be a popular menu addition.
Taqueria Y Pastelitos offers a children’s menu, from which the FB ordered the cheese quesadilla ($6), the Mexican version of grilled cheese. He gobbled that up but avoided his beans, another food for which he has developed a recent aversion in any form or flavor.
We were so enamored with Taqueria Y Pastelitos’ food that OG went back the next day. Twice. And the day after that, too. For lunch, we ordered a Chorizo Torta ($7). A wide, crusty loaf about a foot long was slathered with Mexican chorizo, a spicy sausage removed from its casing and cooked like ground meat. It came topped with lettuce, tomato and sliced avocado, and was wonderful.
We went back for Chicken Pastelitos ($10), fried pockets of dough filled with mild, juicy shredded chicken. Much smaller than the gorditas, we were able to finish these in one sitting. The DC had meatless tacos this visit, the shells filled with lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado.
On our next visit, we ventured into the unknown for us, ordering the Birria Calduda ($14), described as a soup of marinated beef with cilantro, onions and rice. More like beef stew, this day’s version had potato, carrot slices and cabbage as well. At least a pint, this was a comforting dish.
We warmed it with a tiny dollop of the house hot sauce.
On each of our visits we were asked if we wanted any sauce with our meal, with a warning each time that the red sauce is “very hot.”
“We’ll try the red, then,” we’ve said.
“It’s really hot,” three different servers have said, looking concerned. “Really hot.”
Their concern is well warranted. This deep, red sauce is serious stuff. A half teaspoon of it in a pint of the soup left our mouth numb and our brow sweating. We can’t imagine a hotter sauce anywhere.
It’s addicting stuff. For us, Taqueria Y Pastelitos appears to be, too.