WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Like all ethnic restaurants, Taqueria Corona has drifted in the direction of American tastes over the two decades it’s been around. But its food remains much more like that of the interior of Mexico than in most other Mexican restaurants. It was the first true taqueria here, with a menu and cooking style that was very exciting back then. Now other taquerias riddle the market, but the TC–particularly the Magazine Street original–still stands out.
Unless you’re from Oaxaca or San Luis Potosi, these are not the tacos you grew up with. Instead of crunchy corn tortillas filled with salad and meats from a steam table, the tacos here start with flour tortillas and a hot grill covered with chunks of meat, searing away while green onions get semi-charred, and beans are brought to bubbling. Unusual meats like beef tongue and fish add further variety and interest to the menu.
In 1983–Long before the post-Katrina swell of taquerias around town–El Salvador native Roberto Mendez opened up a minimal joint to serve the kind of tacos Mexicans actually eat. Even with the difficulty of parking on that narrow stretch of Magazine Street, Corona’s food was so good and so cheap that it was an immediate hit, and remains busy all the time. Other locations opened over the years, of which remain one in Metairie and another in Harahan. Much discussion as to which is the best has revealed that all are not only good but different from one another.
The Magazine Street place has been fixed up a few times over the years, but it’s still a spartan environment, dim and long, with the grill dominating the attention of diners. And making the place smell good. The suburban locations are made intentionally rustic, but can’t escape entirely from more American spirit of their strip-mall locations.
»Cebollitas (charbroiled green onions, seasoned salt)
»Pico de gallo and chips
»Queso fundido (pepper cheese dip)
Queso fundido with beef
»Black bean chili dip
Grilled chicken quesadilla
»Black bean soup (meatless)
Tacocado salad (beef, chicken, shrimp or bean, in a taco shell with guacamole, salsa, sour cream, cheddar cheese, black olives)
Chicken salad with lettuce, cheese, salsa, & sour cream
California burrito (beans, rice, lettuce, cheddar, guacamole, onions, cilantro, salsa, sour cream, with choice of chicken, chorizo, beef, shrimp, pork, fish, beef tongue or vegetarian)
»Enchilada riviera (wrapped soft corn tortilla, melted cheese)
Mexican pizza with ham, beans, ground beef, or chicken
»»Tacos on soft flour or corn tortillas with pico de gallo and choice of ribeye carne asada, cheese, pork, beef, beef tongue, chicken, chorizo, shrimp, or fish
American taco (crispy shell, ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese)
Beef or shrimp flautas
»Flauta dulce (cheesecake & banana rolled into a flauta, strawberry sauce
Arroz con leche (Mexican rice pudding)
FOR BEST RESULTS
Don’t wear clothes you’d like to keep free of cooking aromas. Go early in you don’t want to wait. The place seems to get busier as it gets later. Don’t even think of getting in even a minute after closing time at either lunch or dinner.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The servers could throw the food down with a little less gusto.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment
- Consistency +1
- Value +2
- Wine & Bar
- Hipness +1
- Local Color +1
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Quick, good meal
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The Taqueria has come a long way since it opened its first seedy location (this one) on Magazine Street. For one thing, it showed Orleanians that there’s more to Mexican food than corn tortillas, ground beef, salad, and shredded cheeses rolled up in enough different ways to make a combo plate.
The kind of taco they vend here is from far behind the border. It’s a flour tortilla, rolled around chunks of interestingly-marinated beef, chicken, and other meats. All are grilled over a surface hot enough to give an exciting flavor and texture. And sent out not with lettuce and tomatoes, but with a tangy pico di gallo and grilled green onions.
However, some toning down has taken place, particularly at the newer locations. A sizzling hot plate that would even make the beans bubble used to be routine; now it’s a rarity. The crunchy border taco has appeared, a sop to the timid palates.
The menu includes the cheesiest enchiladas on earth and a handful of those California-style burritos (the ones filled with rice and beans and all that).
Still, this is some of the best Mexican cooking around. And certainly among the cheapest. It’s a job to get your check over ten dollars here, and you can eat well for much less than that.