Review: Taco Trio

In search of Mexillence
By BRIAN DUFF  |  August 31, 2011

BEGGING FOR MORE Of everything, but especially the salsa.

The surest formula for greatness is to turn your weakness into a strength. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte suffered from a slight speech defect. Rather than hide it, he exaggerated his slurring in order to induce terror among his subordinates, who constantly feared they had misheard his latest order. Immanuel Kant transfigured his essential dullness into the appearance of unprecedented moral seriousness. Hollywood actresses have transformed hunger-induced lightheadedness into charming capriciousness and unpredictability.

Those actresses would find their resolve tested in the aroma-filled dining room of South Portland's Taco Trio. Speech-wise, Taco Trio has, if anything, an advantage in that it might be the only open-plan kitchen in Maine where you actually hear Spanish. With these and other strong points, it is frustrating that Taco Trio does the reverse of Bonaparte, and turns its greatest asset into a weakness: They offer a huge variety of housemade salsas that look and smell terrific, but they make it too expensive to really find out. Your meal comes with one small cup of salsa, after which it's $1 per each additional little two-ounce cup. You see a dizzying array of colors and textures, promising a wonderful variety of heats and flavors. But it's gonna cost you to find your favorite.

Nonetheless, Taco Trio represents the closest thing in Maine to a traditional tacqueria, and it's a good one. It has a scrappy, utilitarian atmosphere, and a wide-open kitchen where you order at the counter. There is a laid-back feel and you don't get the uncomfortable sensation that they are trying too hard at the extra-culinary Mexicana. There is no mariachi or ranchero music and little kitsch. We gave our order over a techno remix of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."

Most importantly, atmosphere-wise, the air inside Taco Trio is pleasantly heavy with the aroma of meat and peppers. That aroma offers a promise that gets fulfilled over and over, as they do not skimp on the meat. The taco al pastor, for example, is chubby with tender pork, long simmered in a thick red sauce that balances sweetness and mild heat. There was just a bit of pineapple sweetness, but plenty of sharp diced onion and bright cilantro.

The only thing that many of the tacos lack is some heat. The salsa bar presents the remedy, which leads to the dilemma described above. The goat taco, for example, was filled with rich and tender meat that was great with a hot tomatillo salsa. The chorizo and potato taco had great texture but not much spice. A vegetarian taco put plenty of dark and tender herbed mushrooms in place of the meat. The fish taco came with a pile of lightly fried white fish, a dash of slaw, and a terrific slightly sour and creamy sauce.

Tacos can be served with several other meats, but we tried these ingredients in other guises. A fat burrito with pork carnitas was more meat than rice, and pretty great, especially once the salsa worked its magic. A quesadilla — a big fat slab rather than a neat circle — showed off the terrific carne asada — rich and tender, with a nice charred flavor. A tamale had a good dense texture and plenty of rich pork.

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Related: Review: Whore's Glory, Review: El Rayo Cantina, Eat your way through 2011 at these 11 places not to miss, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Mexico, food, Mexican food,  More more >
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