Even before tasting a thing, there are ways you can tell whether a Mexican restaurant is oriented more toward the hometown crowd or toward us gringos. How many bumper stickers in the parking lot say “Yo © Jalisco”? If you speak to the waitress in Spanish, what language does she answer you in? Does the menu include pig stomach?
Taqueria Mi Pueblo sells not only buche (pig stomach) but also grilled tripe, tripe soup (menudo) and beef head. It’s a cuisine, after all, that’s based on wasting nothing and making do with what you’ve got.
Your choices include pozole (pork stew with hominy); a bunch of substantial soups, from beef through fish to shrimp/octopus; tinga de pollo (a chicken-and-chipotle hash); tongue tacos; and tres leches cake, among other items not found on the menus that are oriented more toward sour cream and margaritas. (Mi Pueblo doesn’t have a liquor license.)
Although it’s large, with three levels, Mi Pueblo is a pretty place, with frescoes of Mexican scenes and arched windows outlined in brick. It’s a little off the beaten track — although, what with the immigration of the last few years, there’s no part of the southwest side that’s really off the track for a Mexican restaurant anymore.
I recommend the shrimp and octopus soup, quite spicy, with carrots and potatoes. As my tablemates discussed the Red Wings, I was glad my octopus was being put to a better use than what happens at the Joe.
The pozole is good; as is traditional, it comes with a plate of lime wedges, chopped onion, and chopped cabbage on the side, as well as full-size chips.
Also delicious is the torta — a warm, crisp roll filled with avocado and jalapeños and your favorite filling, e.g., barbecued pork loin, eggs-and-chorizo, buche. I washed mine down with horchata, a cloudy-white, sweetened rice-water. When I looked up horchata on the Web, wondering if it contained a secret ingredient, I found it on a site called “Defeat the Milk Subsidies!”
This is not the position of Taqueria Mi Pueblo, which serves a Mexican comfort food called “three milks cake” (evaporated, condensed and regular). You make a simple white cake and then soak it in the three-milk mixture; it is very moist and sweet and bland, nursery food at its finest. Even better is the house-made flan, rather different from the norm. The texture is dense, almost like cheesecake, and the caramel flavor seems to live not just in the topping but throughout. It’s $2.50.
These bland desserts are desirable after the sometimes-fiery main courses. My daughter ordered the unfamiliar tinga de pollo expecting something on the mild side and got a tostada with a pretty high chipotle-chicken ratio. Shrimp fajitas (made with tri-colored peppers) are on the hot side too. Other entrées are heavy on the dairy (Defend the milk subsidies!). The carne asada quesadillas are as cheesy as they are steak-y, kind of greasy in a very delectable way. The super burro is utterly smothered in white cheese; the chorizo (sausage) version of this is pretty interesting, as the chorizo is strong enough to compete with the cheese. I liked that a whole cooked sweet onion was served on the side.
There’s also an entrée called the “gringa,” which is nothing more than cheese and meat between two flour tortillas.
None of the meats listed here come from unmentionable parts of the body. I quizzed the staff, but wasn’t able to ascertain whether the gringa was their own invention or whether it was meant to appeal to that ethnic group.
I’d stay far away from the refried beans here, which, as almost everywhere, are bland and of a really unappetizing consistency, color and flavor.
Remember what I said about wasting nothing? Here is the last line of the recipe for tres leches cake: “If there is milk left over that the cake didn’t soak up, pour into a small pitcher and serve alongside the dessert.”
Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.