"If you like pineapple fajitas and getting caught in the snow/Then I'm the foodie you've looked for, come with me to El Tapatio."
Remember "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)"? That's how that song goes, right?
Parodies aside, let's talk about those pineapple fajitas. That's the first thing I read about El Tapatio. Pineapple fajitas so tasty, that it seemed to be all Payson could talk about.
I have never had pineapple fajitas, but my taste buds could survive off Mexican food (and as a kid in Texas, I basically did just that).
So on a late Tuesday night, a friend and I made the trek down amid snow flurries to Payson Main Street -- which was all closed up -- and peeked into the restaurant. It was almost completely full.
We nabbed an empty table and proceeded to the first test: the chips and salsa. As I've noted previously, a salsa can say a significant amount about a restaurant's cuisine and set the tone for a meal -- either thoughtless and disappointing or surprising and exciting. Fortunately, I can report the salsa at El Tapatio was surprisingly satisfying, with plenty of fresh cilantro.
However, let's move on to the fajitas, shall we?
After taking a bite, my first question was, frankly, "Why have I never seen these on a menu before?" (Though, technically the piña rellena is a special and not on El Tapatio's physical menu.) The flavors and experience encompassing this dish served in a shell of a full-sized grilled pineapple were a complementary marriage of sweet and savory.
The protein was juicy, there was an abundance of cheese, slices of pineapple, mushrooms, onions and bell pepper. This entrée, served with thin tortillas, a simple rice, refried beans and fresh guacamole, was enough to feed two grown men. I made a mental note of that for the next visit, along with the consensus that the chicken was our sure protein route to take in the future as well.
Beyond the pineapple fajitas -- and yes there are many other dishes on the menu -- we sampled the cheese quesadilla appetizer. It was filled with more fresh cilantro, tomatoes and even olives. The portions for this plate could easily feed four to five people.
The other entree we selected was the chile relleno and tamale dinner plate, which is standard fare for a Mexican restaurant. I was eager to compare. I found the tamale to be traditional in its preparation and flavors, while the chile relleno packed a tad more heat and excitement than I've experienced at other places. As is typical, it was breaded and filled with cheese and topped with a red sauce. I particularly enjoyed the selection of cheese stuffed in this spicy relleno, between my sips of water.
If your party happens to have room left (or you have a separate dessert stomach like us) and your taste buds need to cool off, El Tapatio's version of fried ice cream is an indulgent Mexican dessert. Served in a fried cinnamon bowl resembling a churro on steroids, the fried ice cream was both crunchy and smooth.
Throughout our dinner, we found the staff and family to be incredibly friendly and helpful. The location and atmosphere itself reminded me of many popular downtown Provo restaurants, and I couldn't help but selfishly wish it occupied a space there. Looks like some of us will be visiting Payson more often.