There are some things you should know before going to Taqueria Doña Raquel (793 S. Dixie Hwy., Pompano Beach, 954-946-4490) for the first time:
1. They don't have burritos.
2. Well, they might, but they're not on the menu.
Taqueria Doa Raquel
793 S. Dixie Hwy., Pompano Beach
3. They don't serve margaritas. But they do have beer.
4. Doña Raquel's food is not Cal-Mex or Tex-Mex, nor is it the culinary-institute gourmet Mex you'll find at a growing number of upscale restaurants. It's straight-ahead Mexican street food.
5. When you go to the original Pompano location, you should assume nobody on staff can speak any English at all.
6. You will have to speak Spanish or, failing that, smile a lot and be happy with whatever they bring out.
7. You will be happy with whatever they bring out.
With its yellow walls and bright, open kitchen, Taqueria Doña Raquel is a bit of sunshine tucked in among the body shops and thrift stores of Dixie Highway. The entire menu is written on a large blackboard, with only one seafood dish topping $7.99, and by this point, I've eaten my way through virtually all of it.
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That $7.99 will get you a super mole rojo, a tender half-chicken blanketed in a sauce equal parts chocolate, cinnamon, pepper, and spice. Or that old standby bistec a la mexicana, here with perfectly grilled strips of beef with bits of char, topped with still-crisp sweet onion, pepper, and tomato sautéed in the meat juices. Or fajitas that combine those same elements with fresh tortillas made on the premises. Or on weekends, a steaming bowl of pozole, fragrant with tender pork, oregano, and hominy.
Of course, there are respectable tacos ($2 each) too, built on more of those fresh tortillas made throughout the day. Fillings range from tasty standbys like carne asada, carnitas (pork), barbacoa (stewed beef, in this case), and buttery-soft lengua (tongue) to cabeza (head meat), various organ meats, and cueritos (sticky, steamed pork skin, the last of which is not especially tasty but does have a certain texture thing going on). All are topped with little more than diced onion and cilantro and accompanied by grilled stalks of green onion and best enjoyed with a squeeze of lime and spoonfuls of the fine green and smoky red salsas on the table.
We have had mixed results with the popular coctel de camarónes, a school of medium shrimp drenched in a briny cocktail sauce, and with chilaquiles, a dish of fresh tortillas sautéed in red or green salsa we've learned over the years to skip because it so often arrives as mush. Twice, we've been rewarded with the elusive ideal version, with the chips a masterful mix of crisp and tender like an ideal matzo brei, but on another occasion, the dish fell to Earth, a mere limp pile of soaked tortilla sprinkled with cheese.
But these are small stumbles in a place that even has a way with rice and beans. The aguas frescas are made with real fruit, not mixes, and even the desserts are good.