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Francisco Vasquez knows a thing or two about tacos. A native of Jalisco, Mexico, he spent his childhood working in taco joints, and at thirteen opened his first taqueria on a bicycle. Later he owned a string of restaurants along the U.S.–Mexico border, and after moving to Madison in 1998, Vasquez and his partner, Josefina Trejo, began selling tacos, tamales and menudo out of their home. When the couple opened Taqueria Guadalajara in 2006, they had a built-in following.
“Then there was an article in the paper,” Trejo says. “And suddenly the Americans came.”
The taqueria is now a cult favorite among the gringo crowd. But authenticity is the watchword here, and the owners have learned to make no concessions to Midwestern tastes. An early version of enchiladas, served with an Americanized red sauce, didn’t sell, so they eighty-sixed the sauce and switched to mole. Now it’s one of their most popular dishes.
Tacos remain the restaurant’s calling card. On a slow day, Vasquez makes about three hundred and fifty; on weekends, that number jumps to two thousand. His tacos are simple and irresistible: corn tortillas piled with hunks of grilled meat (try the carne al pastor, beef tongue or tripe), then doused with onion, cilantro and lime. At $1.75 a pop, they yield a cheap feast.
Other standouts include Mi Rancho, steak with chorizo, potatoes, nopales (grilled cactus), beans, grilled onions and grilled chili pepper, and El Burrito Mexico, a beast slathered with guacamole, sour cream and red salsa, à la the Mexican flag. Wash it down with Trejo’s rich horchata, which she makes fresh every morning.
It’s Trejo’s tamales, though, that insiders know to ask for—pillows of masa filled with juicy pork or cheese and jalapeños. This is home cooking at its best, the food Trejo grew up making in Mexico, which has won her so many fans in Madison.
“Americans say it’s like being in Mexico,” she says, gesturing to the kitchen, where Vasquez is working the grill. “And Mexicans say it’s like being at home.”
• Taqueria Guadalajara, 1033 S. Park St., 250-1824, lataqueriaguadalajara.com