Unexpected flavors

Things don’t always turn out as expected. Take Indio restaurant, for instance.

Chef Hector Ruiz’s latest venture was pitched originally as a humble taqueria, a place where students from the nearby Lehmann Center could pop in and pick up a cheap taco or tamale for lunch. It sounded good to me.

I was sitting in on a neighborhood meeting in the Wedge a few months back when Ruiz explained his plans for a vacant space on the north side of Lake Street: no booze, no late nights and prices fit for a student’s budget.

Instead, Uptown got an ambitious new restaurant offering refined Mexican flavors and, I should add, some killer margaritas. Not at all what Ruiz initially proposed, but a welcome surprise.

Maybe when the former Pizza Nea location opened up Ruiz decided to scale up the menu to match the surroundings. Something like the Flauta de Pato, a delicious fried tortilla filled with savory duck meat, would be a bit of a splurge on a student’s budget.

Still, some of the simplest things on the menu are the most impressive, like the al pastor, which is kind of the Mexican equivalent of gyro meat.

When I first tried the taquitos al pastor at Indio, I was blown away by the richest, most deeply flavored al pastor I’d ever tried. And I’ve tried it quite a bit, I have to admit.

I think some of the best cheap eats in town are found in the Mexican places along East Lake Street, like Taqueria Los Ocampo and Taqueria la Hacienda — and a number of people agree with me, judging from how often those places show up on local best-of lists.

At Indio, the taquitos al pastor show up three to a plate on small, homemade corn tortillas covered with a sprinkling of red onion, cilantro and a green salsa that offers a nice contrast to the vibrantly red al pastor. The hue resembles a bottle of Tobasco sauce, which isn’t to say it’s hot — just deeply spiced in a way that balances the sweetness of the meat.

Taquitos al pastor are the kind of simple but delicious dish you would expect to find at a little taqueria. At Indio, they just happen to be unexpectedly good.

 

Indio Mexican Cuisine
1221 W. Lake St., 821-9451
www.restaurantindio.com