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Prieto's Restaurant
Prieto's Restaurant

In a summary of last year’s best new restaurants, I called 2018 the Year of the Taco.

Well, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings, as opera lovers counsel, and it seems like she’s still got another aria on her program. A new performer on the Latin dining stage is LynLake’s Prieto Taqueria Bar, where Sonora-born chef (and former helmsman of Sonora Grill) Alejandro Castillon has taken over the short-lived Hasty Tasty’s space. The second of those namesake adjectives still applies, but there’s nothing hasty about grinding your own corn to fashion your tortillas, nor in using the site’s smoker to produce meats the way they do in Kansas City. The journey from kitchen to table is pretty leisurely, too — fair warning for those racing to meet curtain time at the nearby Jungle.

Prieto's Restaurant

Worth the wait? Maybe. But if you arrive expecting a big breakthrough of creative Latin flavors, not so much. It’s a nice addition to the intersection’s culinary options, but yet to earn a “destination dining” label.

Inviting happy hour prices (2 p.m.–6 p.m. and 9 p.m.–close) are a good way to enjoy a visit.  I ordered a chabela margarita ($4) — summery and instilled with a strawberry’s sweetness without tasting too girly. With it, a taco loaded with pork carnitas ($3) — simple and straight-up, the satisfying threads of meat spilling out of its cornmeal casing, along with shredded cabbage and a few flakes of white cheese. It carries a pleasantly tart tingle via the kitchen’s salsa verde.

Prieto's Restaurant

 On a return (non-happy hour) visit, from the list’s nine taco choices (singles, $5–$6) we sampled the pastor — again with plenty of smoker-enriched protein (this time, beef) paired with more cheese, a sweet, fresh pineapple-amplified pico de gallo and a modest, unassuming avocado salsa. We also begged a taste of the chef’s ancho salsa — rich, velvety and deeply flavored. Order the house-made chips with choice of two of the chef’s quintet of salsas if you wish.

Sliding by the sandwich offerings (choice of three tortas, $9–$11) and quesadillas (two options, $6 and $9), we glued our eyes to the list of five platillos ($11–$14). A pair of empanadas — their doughy envelopes hosting brisket of unassuming flavor pedigree — came garnished with queso fresco, a lick-your-fingers serrano crema (OK, we finally remembered our manners and begged for spoons) and a contrasting but sparse cilantro-avocado vinaigrette: tasty, sure, but not gotta-come-back-for-more. 

Prieto's Restaurant

The hit of the evening was the order of flautas: cigar-shaped tortilla bundles wrapped around cheese and chicken — so far, so ordinary — but they came topped oh-so-generously with chopped lettuce, that lusty pico de gallo and a subtle, savory, mushroom-like huitlacoche crema.

Dessert? A single selection: the house-made buñuelos. If you go for bubbly, airy, crispy deep-fried dough, state-fair-style, you’ll probably relish the opportunity. Otherwise, simply order another drink.

Prieto's Restaurant

We’d been sipping a crisp, summery Grüner Veltliner from the by-the-glass choices. There’s a listing of beers and (mostly tequila-based) cocktails, too. On my first visit, I bounced to the sound system’s mariachi music; on a repeat trip it was generic bar tunes. Sidewalk seating is a nice option, too.

Next up? Watch for veteran restaurateur Ann Kim opening her own taqueria in Uptown soon.

Prieto Taqueria Bar

701 W. Lake St.

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