This review is out of date; since writing, the restaurant has expanded and every meal I’ve had there has been very good.
I asked you for hole in the wall restaurant recommendations and since Taqueria Durango popped up more than once, I went. I listen because I care.
Like so many of St. Louis' hole in the wall Mexican restaurants, Durango is located south of the airport, near Lindbergh and Page. I had no idea there were so many I needed to try, though it's hard to pull myself away from the nearby La Tejana.
There were so many questions in my head as I drove towards Durango, like would this dethrone Tejana as my favorite taqueria? Would it be half liquor store? Why did HBO stick with Nucky Thompson as the main character of Boardwalk Empire when the supporting cast was so strong?
Word of advice: If you're planning to head over, check out the location on Google maps first. It's tucked away in a small, poorly lit shopping center that you can easily miss. I had slowed to a snail's pace before I noticed the roadside plywood sign with "TAQUERIA DURANGO" painted on it.
I get the distinct feeling the space was once a Chinese restaurant. The interior was bright, clean and much nicer than a lot of the small Mexican restaurants I've been to. No liquor store attached, either. Our waitress-one of the owners, I think-was wonderfully friendly and gave us advice on what her favorite menu items were.
The guy sitting next to us told us that his favorite salsa in the world is their green tomatillo salsa, which is a bold statement. I put it to the test.
It was certainly good. That bottle was full when I started. The red salsa, however, was too hot for me to enjoy comfortably. I've become weak in my old age.
The [symple_highlight color="blue"]guacamole[/symple_highlight] topped with a squirt of the tomatillo salsa -- that's the way to go. Tomatillos have a creamy texture, plus they're green, so it blends right in. You'll thank me.
Ah, the glorious [symple_highlight color="blue"]flauta[/symple_highlight]. The lazy man's enchilada and the fat man's taco. Four tortillas filled with shredded beef, deep fried, then topped with lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. As you can imagine, there's almost no way for a flauta to be bad, and these were not. The beef inside was well seasoned and remained soft and tender with little crispy edges, though the shell itself was extremely oily. Yes, fried foods do tend to be oily, but I've had enough flautas in my life to know when one is more oily than it should (or could) be.
I can't go to a taqueria and not get tacos. Our choices: [symple_highlight color="blue"]fish, lengua (beef tongue), carne asada (steak) and al pastor (marinated pork)[/symple_highlight]. The stand out for me was the carne asada, which came as a surprise. Steak has always been such a boring taco filling, but not this one. Instead of being cooked then chopped, my guess is that these were chopped then cooked over high heat. Lots of little pieces had a fantastic sear on them, resulting a deeper flavor and the kind of crust that makes you instantly salivate. It made me want to go to Citizen Kane's and order tacos.
The tongue was slow cooked, resulting in a tender and more beefy flavor. The idea of eating tongue may be a turn off to you, but if you didn't know better, you'd just think this was any other cut of braised beef.
The fish taco was a let down. It lacked the flavor punch I expected and some bites had the overwhelmingly fishy taste that comes when overcooked. The portion was generous, but its size wasn't the reason it was the only taco left unfinished. I'd skip this next time and try a different one.
The al pastor left me conflicted. The heavily seasoned pork had a little kick to it, but it didn't have the hint of citrus I associate with al pastor meat, though I can get past that. Flavor wise, overall, it was good. What left me a little turned off was the sheer amount of oil on the meat, running out of my taco and onto the plate. Maybe it's just a personal pet peeve, but I despise the feeling of it on my hands and the mouthfeel it leaves.
All in all, the food at Taqueria Durango was good. I didn't leave the meal unhappy or sad. Most of the food had been eaten. It just didn't blow me away. I think too much of the menu relies on some aspect of the dish being deep fried or covered with cheese. Some healthier options and/or regional specialties, like the mole at La Tejana or Pueblo Nuevo, would be good additions.
It's one of those restaurants I'd be happy to go to if someone asked, but I'm pretty unlikely to pick on my own. I'd still rather drive further up Lindbergh and get Tejana, even if the service and atmosphere are severely lacking.
Note: After writing this, I decided to go through some of the reviews from Yelp since it was so highly rated. It seems to me that both Durango and Tejana suffer from a lack of consistency; some of the Tejana comments didn't apply at all to the meals I had there. I will give Durango another chance at some point.