When I told Paula Martinez I had dined at her new restaurant in the Railyard, El Mariachi Taco Cantina, she asked if I had tried the pupusas.
Of course, I had.
Pupusas are handmade tortillas stuffed with your choice of pork, cheese, black beans or a mix of those ingredients.
They look like pancakes except without the maple syrup. They are served with a cabbage and carrot slaw. They are delicious, inexpensive treats, costing just $2.50 each. Two of them is more than enough for a meal.
Since El Salvador closed a few years ago, pupusas are hard to find to Lincoln. El Rancho on 27th and O streets, which Martinez also owns with her husband, Hector, has them. And now so does their new restaurant.
The Martinez couple opened El Mariachi on Dec. 9. Paula said she and Hector had been looking to expand after buying El Rancho about three years ago. El Rancho also is well known to Lincoln diners for the food truck it operates in its parking lot.
“When we saw all the movement around the new arena, we wanted to be a part of that,” Paula said.
Their new restaurant is located right across the street from the Pinnacle Bank Arena. It seats about 70, with tables for another 20 or so outside when the weather is nice. The menu is similar to El Rancho’s with a few more items and beers available, Paula said.
“We’re doing OK,” she said. “Gamedays we’ve been really busy.”
I ordered a pork pupusa as a side to my burrito plate. It was too much food. El Mariachi’s portions are, in a word, generous. My lengua (tongue meat) burrito was the size of those you get at Chipotle or Qdoba and served with beans and rice for just $6.95.
Burritos are stuffed with rice, beans, onions, choice of meat and topped with a mild red sauce. I wanted more sauce and poured the salsa from our complimentary chips and salsa on my burrito. Next time, I’ll ask the kitchen to spice it up a bit because the meat in it was mildly seasoned.
My wife went with her favorite Mexican dish, the chile relleno ($8.95). The poblano pepper is lightly battered, fried and filled with ground beef and melted cheese. It’s served with rice. My wife enjoyed it, saying she was glad it wasn’t heavily breaded, allowing for the pepper’s taste to come through.
El Mariachi’s menu is extensive, from basic tacos ($1.50 each) to more elaborate dishes, such as the Pozole de Mexico ($8.95), a traditional red stew made with marinated and baked pork chunks and served with hominy.
Customer favorites include the pupusas, the fajitas ($11.50 to $13.50) and the Fiesta Plate ($7.50), a three-choice combination entree featuring taco, quesadilla, enchilada or tamale. I’m anxious to return and try more. Grade: B
Paula said she and her husband acquired the colorful tables and chairs from Mexico. It’s the same kind of furniture found in El Rancho. Each table and chair features a painted mural in bright, vibrant colors. They are something to behold.
The light fixtures are fairly novel, too. They are shaped like pinatas, with a giant one just above the bar. As for the bar, it, too, is worth checking out. You can find several Mexican coins beneath a glass top. Grade: A
Kudos to our server for providing us recommendations when we asked. She suggested the fajitas, which we considered, but went in another direction.
The kitchen also deserves compliments. We received our meals in five minutes. It also was a Sunday evening, and there were only two other tables. A gameday or concert event could be another story.
Our only qualm was not knowing what to do when we finished. We didn’t receive a bill at the table, so we headed to the register, which, I guess, is protocol. Grade: B+
Tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas and other items are available as vegetarian. Most are made with red and green peppers and onions. Black beans and cheese also are options. The breakfast menu also includes several nonmeat choices. The cheese pupusa is a customer favorite. Grade: B