Every time someone gives a little thought to Mexican food, the question of authenticity comes up.
Then, the menu of one restaurateur's take on what the increasingly diverse population of Fargo-Moorhead will eat is stacked up against the culinary experience of 130 million people south of the border. So I'll dodge that bullet and go straight to Tacos Trompo, a strip mall diner in south Fargo that does a good job of bringing mainline Mexican food to the salt and fat staples of the big-name Mexican restaurants in town. It's a refreshing break and an introduction to some flavors and foods you may not have experienced before.
A case in point is the use of rose meat in tacos rather than the ground beef you often see. It's a pale-colored meat that gives the taco a more substantial chew but has less grain than other cuts, so it's smoother in the mouth. It seems like a small thing, but it adds to the experience of a dish that has become a grocery-store taco mix staple in the minds of a lot of people.
Another interesting difference that puts Tacos Trompo at a different place on the culinary map is its approach to spice. Most of our local Mexican restaurants spice with a variety of dry chili and spice mixes. Many dishes on the menu at Tacos Trompo are chili-free and expect you to spice according to your preferences from the chili sauce bar that offers you more than spice.
This variety of sauces and salsas lets you mix and match heat levels as well as chili flavors. It takes a little practice, but a few tacos, and a sense of adventure, will allow you a good deal more flexibility in how you experience Mexican food.
The menu is complete and, if you master the chili sauces, you can have a pretty complete experience. Of course, a good place to start is the taco ($2.99). Good options for something not always a part of Midwestern versions of Mexican food are suadero, the rose meat mentioned earlier and al pastor, a bright version of shredded pork that mixes a savory marinade with the sweetness of pineapple.
The enchilada platter ($7.79) gives you a broader selection of flavors than some other dishes, but one interesting mix of flavors can be found on the alambres ($8.50). It's a platter of beef, bacon, peppers and onions drizzled with Chihuahua queso, a slightly more substantial and flavorful version of the more common queso fresco or blanco. It's these kinds of details that add to the experience.
The atmosphere is plain. There is only so much you can do with a strip mall space. Service is generally good, but the walk-up ordering can get complicated if the restaurant is busy and you are not certain what you are looking for. It seems like a small thing, but it's worth mentioning.
The dishes are real and, when it comes to the tendency for some dishes to come apart, or to arrive that way, it's a nice bonus.
There is no shortage of Mexican restaurants in the area, and most deliver on the promise of spice and flavor that has been standardized over the years, turning "Mexican" into a near-cliche of a cuisine.
Tacos Trompo offers a step to one side with street-inspired versions of dishes you can dress to your liking and that include bits and pieces of the genuinely unique.
Address: 4265 45th St. S., Fargo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Ratings (out of 4 stars)
Food: 3 stars
Service: 2 1/2 stars
Ambiance: 1 1/2 stars
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.