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Lunchbox: Tequila Kitchen

Published On: Nov 08 2013 12:47:35 PM AKST   Updated On: Nov 08 2013 01:25:52 PM AKST
Lunchbox: Tequila Kitchen

Lunchbox: Tequila Kitchen

Tequila Kitchen serves (clockwise from upper left) this carne asada street taco ($3.49), grilled chicken nacho plate ($6.99, plus $2.00 for meat) and torta Cubana ($9.99); fountain drinks are $1.99 apiece.

Tequila Kitchen
2514 E. Tudor Rd.
$7-$11 per plate
Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; closed Saturday

I’ve been asked by colleagues in the newsroom to visit several restaurants lately, and this week’s Lunchbox is devoted to one of the more frequent requests -- one which digital content supervisor Josh Staab has been eagerly anticipating.

Tequila Kitchen sits in a relatively compact location which used to house a KFC/Long John Silver’s fast-food restaurant, one of three local KFC outlets closed nearly a year ago during the economic downturn. Situated on the south side of Tudor Road in a section with raised medians to prevent left turns, it can be a little difficult to pull in at if you’re not headed east, but ample parking easily compensates for the trouble. I brought Josh, a recent arrival from California, because he’s a fount of taqueria knowledge but hasn’t had a chance to visit all of what Anchorage has to offer.

Unlike the more garish décor in place at Anchorage’s Taco King outlets, Tequila Kitchen favors a more reserved, almost Southwestern look based on relatively subdued shades of white and gray. Several pieces of simple art adorn the walls, which also host a number of booths; the center of the dining room features a mix of standalone tables and hybrid chair/booth seating, their metallic look enhanced by generous sunlight from the restaurant’s half-dozen windows. A stack of menus at the original fast-food counter helps customers learn more before ordering, with a condiment bar to one side offering supplies of salsa, sour cream and pico de gallo.

The establishment most sharply veers from its competition in its menu, which features an array of cuisine both broader and deeper than that on offer at several competitors. While a token few dishes are on offer in soups, salads and American fare, the bulk of the menu covers a generous array of Mexican food ranging from tacos and burritos through enchiladas, tortas and a few unexpected items like menudo. I let Josh take the lead on the meal with a grilled-chicken nacho plate ($6.99, plus $2.00 for meat), a carne asada street taco ($3.49) and a cup of horchata ($2.75). Falling back on my unofficial rule when choosing dishes to go for the one with the longest description, I decided to try a torta Cubana ($9.99 off the sandwich menu). We sat down and talked about the differences between San Diego and Northern California burritos (four base ingredients versus seven), with the food coming up in a quick 10 minutes.

The street taco was Staab’s first target, which he picked up in its twin corn tortillas and summarily wolfed down. “The carne is very familiar, very California-esque,” he told me between bites, noting that the taco’s own salsa -- balanced with modest portions of onions and cilantro -- meant it didn’t need any from the condiment bar. While he also liked the homemade horchata, a rice-based beverage including cinnamon and sugar, Josh seemed to hold back his appetite for the nachos, which he confessed to routinely chowing down on as a main dish in his college days. I thought I might pilfer a fair helping from the edge of his plate, but I only got to sample one chip as Staab dug into them with gusto, mixing the refried beans and cheese with thinner layers of pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. He told me that while he thought the plate could use more cheese and sour cream, the chicken was “really good;” he reserved his highest praise for the chips, which he called the cornerstone of any good nacho plate.

The torta, a Mexican sandwich, looked relatively unassuming at first glance, but even half of the grilled bolillo roll had a promising heft when I lifted it off the plate. That impression was rewarded when I took a bite of it, with the loosely standard Cuban sandwich ingredients -- ham, pulled pork, Jack cheese -- backstopped by a layer of avocado sauce that lent it a cooler flavor than I was expecting. What stole the show, however, was the unexpectedly strong addition of Polish sausage to the mix; it’s also listed in an entry from the burger menu, but here it made the entire dish much more savory, complementing the other items between the layers of fresh, crispy bread. A pile of cilantro Parmesan fries alongside the plate looked promising but were hard to keep together, with shreds of cilantro and crumbs of cheese falling off each fry I lifted; while the mix tasted great when I balanced some on one, it didn’t feel quite cohesive enough to become a classic side.

As Josh and I headed back to the station with full stomachs and a few minutes to talk about the meal, I liked what I had and looked forward to trying more -- like Serrano’s Mexican Grill the price was right, the service was quick and the food was great. Josh, however, was even more effusive about the meal, noting that he’s already tried several stops in town but reserving his greatest praise for last: “This is the first place in Anchorage that has satisfied my taqueria craving.”  I’m not sure if Tequila Kitchen truly is Anchorage’s best quick-service Mexican restaurant, but one thing is certainly clear: for Josh, the worm has turned.