In a word: Madison's Mexican comfort food.
The specs: #0324
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at the Daily Cardinal, Yelp: West and East, Insert Pithy Title Here, Taste Test Madison; Madison Dining Online "Best Ethnic" 2007 winner announcement; official web site;
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JM ate the fish tacos with a lemonade.
John ate the cheese enchiladas and a Diet Coke.
Nichole ate the smoked chicken Caesar salad and a Diet Coke.
Rose ate the chicken and cheese enchiladas and a Diet Coke.
We split a cheesecake chimichanga.
The bill was $42, or $10.50/person, plus tip.
Everyone gave Laredo's an A (see our grading rubric).
Let's get one thing straight: we know that by giving Laredo's straight A's, we're inviting flak from all sides - from the foodies who'd never set foot there, to the bargain hunters who remember when you could get twice the volume of tortilla slop in red sauce for half the price. We stand by Laredo's because it's wildly successful at what it sets out to do, which is to profit from providing decent, consistent Mexican food, fast, and fairly cheaply, to the average Madisonian.
The speedy, friendly service at Laredo's is a hallmark of the establishment. You rarely have to wait for a table except at the height of the lunch rush, and you can almost always expect the manager to check in on your meal with a warm, "How is everything, amigos?" Your glass is never empty - even their rich, creamy horchata can be had by the pitcher. The omnipresent murals, though unchanged through the years, remain bright and cheery.
These cheese enchiladas are typical of Laredo's menu. Both Rose and John enjoyed them, as usual; John would normally have gotten the beef fajitas, which can feed an army, but concessions for Lent had to be made.
JM's Lenten purchase, the fish tacos, were good enough to consume year round. They were delicious, rich and gone. The grilled tilapia fillets, tender to the tooth and absorbent of the sauce, were far superior to fried version. The crema on the side, a cold, sour cream base with dill and chili powder, was quite fantastic, reminding JM of salsa and tartar sauce simultaneously.
Nichole's smoked chicken Caesar salad was a winner as well. Admittedly watery shredded romaine and commercial croutons were the least thrilling parts; but those were just a vehicle for toppings of grilled asparagus, avocado, green olives, diced tomatoes, and a generous amount of smoky chicken and cheese. The salad didn't come with dressing but didn't need it. Even if JM's fish taco sauce hadn't been there for illicit fork-dipping, the house salsa made a good dressing, complementing the salad's fresh, clean, simple flavors.
Other highlights of Laredo's menu include:
- Enchiladas Poblanas - chicken mole, Nichole's standby, done in a rich dark sauce.
- Fajitas jardin - another simple (if unabashedly inauthentic) winner: a veritable mountain of non-greasy asparagus, zucchini, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes, served with Laredo's smooth beans and (natch) all the tortillas you need.
- Tortilla soup - a spicy tomato-vegetable base garnished with crunchy strips of chips.
- Enchiladas Campeche - the only way to pull off the combination of shrimp, scallops and beans; queso Oaxaca and cilantro tie it together (though the chipotle adobo sauce can be hit or miss).
- Enchiladas Sonora - smoked chicken, spinach, and poblano peppers in a creamy green sauce with sour cream and queso fresco.
- Any of the quesadillas (but especially the Rio Bravo seafood version) - the next time you need to dispel your daily sorrows with a grilled cheese sandwich, use this nuclear option and coast through the afternoon on a cloud of warm queso goodness.
There are some things to be missed at Laredo's. The chiles rellenos always seem to be overcooked and their filling is nothing to write home about. In almost any chorizo dish, the sausage's primary contribution is not porcine goodness but a gritty texture. And if you're looking for health food, move on - you have to put up with salt and fat to enjoy your meal here.
We're not ashamed to admit that we're Laredo's regulars. It's our favorite Madison comfort food. We always leave full and happy, wallets intact, with or without dessert.