Few foodie adjectives are as overused and abused as authentic, but that’s the word that comes to mind when I eat at Taqueria El Patron. To be clear, it is not a mirror-perfect reflection of foodways of one particular part of Mexico. Far from it. This restaurant’s menu is Sonoran, Oaxacan, and Pueblan; it’s even a bit New Mexican (sopaipillas) and Tex-Mex (fajitas — glorious fajitas!). The bill of fare presents an inclusive way of eating that might be called Mexican-American (or, more precisely, Mexican-USA) — culinary highlights from south of the border and the borderlands, including tacos (which are superb), chicken mole (which is even more superb!). and steak a la Mexicana.
So when I call Taqueria El Patron authentic, I am referring to the fact that eating in this strip-mall restaurant on Augusta’s busy Washington Road is an honest experience of from-scratch cooking and genuine hospitality with few of the compromises found at gringo-oriented Mexican restaurants. For instance, salsas served with chips at the beginning of the meal are blistering-hot — ecstasy for chile lovers — and yet the kindly waitress who sets them on the table offers no warning or apologies. That’s just the way it is. Most conversations in the dining room are in Spanish, and almost none of the regular waitstaff are fluent in English. There are Jarritos beverages and horchatas and aguas frescas to drink and paletas for dessert.
While wheat tortillas are available for tacos, corn tortillas are made here. They are soft and fragile, barely able to hold cilantro-festooned heaps of reassuringly homey pulled pork or intriguing pastor or less common items such as tongue, tripe, and beef cheeks. The broad menu includes burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, flautas, steaks, and seafood; and all combo plates can be made vegetarian. I’ve yet to hit a clinker, but the dish that has wowed me most is chicken mole, which is so dark that it’s nearly black, packing intense flavor that is very smoky, vividly spicy (but not ferociously hot), and just barely sweet enough to remind you that chocolate is its essence. Mole is available on wings, legs, or diced chicken pieces.
Desserts include flan, fried churros, and a freezer case full of paletas (ice cream bars), many of which are made with real fruit.