Tarahumara’s Mexican Cafe: Tex-Mex with a little something extra
Several years ago, some friends who live in Norman introduced me to a gem called Tarahumara’s Mexican Cafe. After one visit, it easily catapulted to a spot as one of my top five Tex-Mex eateries in the metro. With so many Tex-Mex places from which to choose, that’s no easy feat.
Tarahumara’s is located on Porter, just south of Norman Regional Hospital and a few miles north of the OU campus. Years ago it was a Mazzio’s, but the owners have totally redecorated it in sunny hues of yellow and orange. While the parking lot is almost always full and there is often a line, the wait (like most Tex Mex places) goes pretty fast. A covered patio and a small indoor waiting area exist for diners waiting for their pagers to buzz. Now that summer is here, they have the misters running to cool the patio area.
One thing that sets Tarahumara’s apart from other restaurants is the flat screen TVs. In addition to regular programming, some of the TVs feature views of the kitchen so that a diner can see food as it is being prepared. It’s nice to see such a clean kitchen where the staff is working quickly to prepare the meals. Another big surprise came on my last visit a few weeks ago. The menu at Tarahumara’s now features color photos of most if not all of the dishes. This new full color menu can also be viewed online.
Tarahumara’s brings the standard fresh tortillas, cheese sauce, chips and salsa as soon as diners are seated. They also offer carrot, jalapeno and onion relish upon request. There is some kind of herb or spice in the relish that I cannot pinpoint. All I know is that it gives a slight smoky flavor to the relish, setting it apart from other places. The flour tortillas are nice and fluffy while the corn tortillas are thin and tender — just the way I like each. The “house salsa” is your standard tomato blend with just enough kick. On my last visit, I requested their green salsa which is a creamy avocado dip with lots of spicy peppers blended into it. One more thing on the set up, the chips are thin and crispy, not oily or chewy at all.
They also have tasty selection of Mexican-style cervezas and margaritas for those who choose to partake. The beers come with lime in a chilled salt rimmed glass, which is perfect for the sweltering Oklahoma heat.
While Tarahumara’s has been a long time favorite, I went twice in the span of two weeks to write this review. On my first visit, I ordered the Guiso Mexicano ($11.85) which is a dish comprised of very tender beef tips in a sauce made from tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. It comes with rice, beans and guacamole. I particularly enjoyed the tenderness of the beef and the spiciness of the sauce. The next day I reheated my leftovers along with some of the tortillas and made my own burrito for lunch.
My friend Nancy had the Tacos al Borrego ($11.85 for 2, $13.75 for 3), which is comprised of Mexican-style tacos with soft corn tortillas rather than hard shells. These tacos come with rice, beans and avocado slices. While Nancy said she enjoyed her meal, she said “I did have a bit of gristle in the steak in my taco, but I would let that slide — they can’t always get all that cut out.”
On my next visit, my mother ordered the Camaron al Mojo de Ajo ($12.60 single or $18.35 for double shrimp or scallops) which is shrimp cooked in garlic butter. While the shrimp were good size, Mom commented they could have had a little more garlic and the sauce could have been better. In reviewing the menu, I see that this dish was supposed to come with Mexican corn. She didn’t receive corn with her meal, but with the ample rice, beans and avocados, it wasn’t missed.
In keeping with a promise I made to myself to order something different this time, I ordered the Bistec Ranchero ($12.75), listed on the menu as a new item. This thinly-sliced, marinated and grilled strip steak had a good flavor, but it was a little on the tough side. In the future, I think I will stick to thicker cuts of meat.
Of note for both of my recent meals — I love it that nearly every single entrée comes with either a side of guacamole or some sliced avocados. To me, that’s an added bonus. I also appreciate that they have an ample lunch menu with lots of great items at value prices, and a low-carb menu for those who are looking for something healthier.
Tarahumara’s stands out to me as a cut above the standard Tex-Mex fare. They offer some unique dishes in addition to the standards and most everything they do is done very well. If you live close by, it’s definitely worth your attention. Even if you live farther away, you might find, like me, that it’s worth a special trip now and then. So check it out, and tell us all about your impressions in the comments below.