Cheap 'n' Tasty

Taco Giro's décor isn't much to look at, but the food is delightfully delicious and inexpensive

Tucson could use a lot of things. For example, some shopping fanatics drool over the prospect of a Tucson Nordstrom. More usable public transportation would be nice. And foodies like me think the Old Pueblo needs more good Chinese food.

But more Mexican food? Please. That's one thing Tucson has in abundance. Therefore, one must tip his or her hat to a place like Taco Giro Mexican Grill, a Mexican-food joint that seems to be gaining in popularity despite the wealth of good Mexican restaurants here. You can count me among Taco Giro's growing legion of fans.

That's not to say that everything at Taco Giro is perfect. Let me get the bitching out of the way: Taco Giro is in need of a decorator--badly in need. It's not that Taco Giro has poor décor; it has an utter lack of décor. The walls are yellow and bare, save some posters advertising beer. One of the machines in the walk-in area (you can order food to-go at the counter, or get table service in an adjacent L-shaped room) emits a loud, annoying hum. The lone bit of encouraging décor is provided by two flat-screen TVs--and on our initial visit, the TV at our end of the room was tuned to the DirecTV preview channel. How lame is that? I much rather would have been on the other end of the L-shaped room, where a Spanish-language game show was on.

OK, enough bitching; on to the good stuff--like the food, which is tasty and inexpensive: Nothing on the menu costs more than $6.99. On visit No. 1, I ordered the taco, enchilada and tamale combo, with chicken in all three items ($6.49). Garrett ordered the carne asada burrito ($4.95). We attempted to order some guacamole ($2.99), but, alas, the server said it had sold out.

All the Mexican-restaurant standards--soups (which vary depending on the day of the week), tortas, sopes, enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos (hard-shell or soft) and taco salads--are available, as are Sonoran hot dogs ($2.59), hamburgers ($2.99; fries will run you an extra $1.60) and bowls combining meat, rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, cheese and salsa fresca ($4.89-$5.29).

Shortly after you're seated at Taco Giro, one of the pleasant servers will bring you a basket of chips, a bowl of piping-hot (and tasty) bean dip, and an empty bowl that you can use to help yourself at the salsa bar. At that bar are four salsa offerings: a slightly smoky-flavored salsa that ranks among the best I've had in Tucson; a decent pico de gallo/salsa fresca; a red, peppery salsa that I found to be overly watery; and a creamy green salsa was way too salty on our first visit, but passable (though still quite salty) on visit No. 2. I recommend getting a big serving of that main, smoky salsa. It goes well on almost everything Taco Giro serves.

Within five minutes or so of being seated, our food was served. Garrett's burrito was large and simple--it contained rice, beans and steak, period--but it was tasty, thanks to the nicely charred, marinated carne asada. The items on my combination plate, by and large, were full of flavor. The taco and enchilada were both packed with juicy, tender chicken, and the enchilada--covered with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and a decent red sauce--pleasantly surprised me, thanks to the addition of some green peppers, which gave it a nice little kick. Most of the tamale was delicious--one corner was dried out and inedible--with some green peppers and olives adding an extra layer of flavor. The rice was typical, but the refried beans were disappointing, thanks to an almost complete lack of flavor. The beans were the lone major blotch on an otherwise outstanding--and inexpensive--meal.

I returned a couple of days later to check out Taco Giro's breakfast offerings. The menu offers some Mexican-tinged items (breakfast burritos, breakfast enchiladas) as well as some American standards (omelettes, pancakes, bacon, ham, etc.). I chose to split the middle and order an American standard with a Mexican tinge: huevos rancheros ($4.59).

After munching on some more of those tasty chips and salsa with bean dip, and while half-watching a fishing show on the TV nearest to my table, my breakfast arrived--again, only several minutes after I ordered. On the left side of the plate were refried beans, which tasted much better on this visit (thanks to the addition of what I suspect was more fat). In the middle were six slices of fried potatoes; on the right side were the two huevos rancheros, each consisting of an egg on a hard, fried tortilla, and topped with lots of the salsa fresca. My first several bites were only OK: The tortillas at the base seemed awfully hard and dry, and there was too much salsa fresca. However, after I removed some of the salsa fresca and added in some of the smoky salsa from the bar, the extra flavor and moisture took the dish from OK to very good--and all for less than $5, before tip. Not bad at all.

Delicious food at ridiculously low prices: That's a formula for success--even in a town packed with Mexican restaurants.