Update 9/3/11: Taqueria Marimar is probably closed.
In a word: Maybe Marimar.
The specs: #0652
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Isthmus, Yelp, 100 Words or Less, Madison LiveJournal, Ruppert Food Blog (10/1/08 & 3/25/09), Yahoo Travel; photograph at Althouse; listing at Eat Drink Madison;
Latest Taqueria Marimar news and reviews at del.icio.us
Ann, Marijka, and Meade ate the chile relleno special.
JM ate the chorizo burrito.
Nichole ate three tacos: asada, lengua, and al pastor.
Ryan ate a quesadilla, a chicken sope, and a taco al pastor.
We split some guacamole and a pitcher of horchata.
The bill was about $10/person, plus tip.
Ryan gave Taqueria Marimar an A; Nichole gave Taqueria Marimar a B+; Marijka gave Taqueria Marimar a B; JM gave Taqueria Marimar a B-; Ann gave Taqueria Marimar a C+; Meade gave Taqueria Marimar a C- (see our grading rubric).
You'd think we'd learn to call ahead. Taqueria Guanajuato was to be the appetizer stop on our second Taco Tour, but we and our mystery companions arrived to find it stone cold and closed. That the identically-named butcher shop was still open next door, and that there were signs of work being done in the erstwhile Bamboo Hut/Mediterranean Delight/Donut Delight building, gave us hope that the taqueria will someday appear on a make-up list; but tonight we had to move on. This brought us to Taqueria Marimar tucked away in the industrial strip mall land off of Greenway Cross.
That was a close call as well. Though the posted hours say Taqueria Marimar is open until 8, we arrived before 7 and the small staff seemed halfway through the closing routine. They graciously waved us in to sit in the dead center of the brightly-lit room at a long cafeteria table and started with our baseline guacamole and a pitcher of horchata.
The horchata was missable, with clumps of not-quite-emulsified drink mix bobbing along the surface. The three horchata fans in our party didn't quite finish the pitcher between them. The generous portion of guacamole, likewise, was just OK, with a distinct mayonnaise flavor but a spicy edge to offset its richness. The fresh salsa, in contrast, had a deeply smoky but bright flavor. The chips were probably storebought, unsalted, but crunchy.
The tacos here shine, especially if you top them with the lengua or chicken. While the asada was too salty and the pastor was overwhelmed by the bold onion, the lengua was a hearty serving of strips of meat, and the juicy chicken also had that fine smoky flavor. Last time we went for tacos with Ryan we missed the chance to share his thoughts on tacos in general, so permit us to do so now: "The doubled up soft, corn tortillas, garnished with chopped onion and cilantro, are the type of tacos that makes my heart beat ever so slightly fonder." Taqueria Marimar also gets praise for bypassing the bland "American"-style tomato, onion, and iceberg lettuce garnish (see Lucky 7).
Speaking of Lucky 7, the chorizo in JM's burrito did not live up to the gold standard that that restaurant had set in his mind for the yummy Spanish sausage. It was filling and firm, though it left him without feeling too strongly about the experience but the price was right.
Chiles rellenos were on special, and our table went for the dish with gusto. It's one of Meade's favorites, though he's yet to find a great one in Madison. This version is close to the traditional, with a lightly battered pepper doused in sauce. It may have been the lateness of the hour of our arrival, but these dishes weren't very warm - which is unfortunate in that you'd hope the specials would be special (or at least, fresh). The cheese in all three had coagulated a bit. The sides were not super, with slightly hard beans and plain rice with a medley of diced veggies likely from a freezer bag.
Hopping back across the table to Ryan's quesadilla, we can say that the toasted tortilla full of stretchy cheese was a winner, as was the thickly satisfying sope topped with chicken. Also nice were the cool, fresh lime pieces in a cute mini-molcajete that we passed around to brighten things up.
Taqueria Marimar might be more fun for a quick lunch as opposed to dinner, but let no one say the staff is not hospitable nor that the simpler eats are not good. Ever since the fantastic fried fish at El Pastor we've been keeping an eye out, and here too several kinds of fish appear on the menu, including red snapper and tilapia. Desserts, including tres leches, seem to be a specialty.
While we couldn't quite all give them an unreserved recommendation, we'd not turn down an invitation to try Taqueria Marimar in more depth.