The name itself, La Flama Taqueria, excites the imagination as to what can be found in this restaurant. The noun La Flama, or "flame," carries a heavy symbolic burden of acknowledgement, remembrance of some thing, person or event. In this case, taqueria means taco shop.
In many cases these days, though, the term refers to restaurants specializing in items outside the name like as burritos and enchiladas.
Taquerias had humble beginnings as street vendors, but now they have come to be known as a place for a fine Mexican meal. Unless you read this or have been tipped off to this place, La Flama Taqueria would probably not appear on the 'Restaurants to Check Out' list. Yet, it should.
La Flama is a modest establishment that has excellent, no-frills Mexican food. While the menu is not large, there seems to be no limit put on the taste and care given to each order's preparation.
One evening a friend and I ventured to La Flama on 61st just west of Peoria. La Flama is a simple place with a lot of Mexican charm and character. Orders are taken at the counter, the menu situated on a wall right above the kitchen prep area and on colored paper attached to one side wall.
Tacos ($1.25) reign supreme, with pork, beef, sausage, pork chops, chicken, cactus, beef ribs and chicken breast as options. Other dishes available but not necessarily featured on the menu include burrito and enchilada dinners (both served with rice and beans), and various family-style meal combos that include choices of Alambres, Tortas, Cincronizados, Huaraches, Sebolitas, Flamas, Gringas, Fajitas, Costilla de Puerco (pork chop), Filete de Pescado (tilapia), Milansea con Arroz y Frijoles.
All prices are reasonable, with enchilada dinners being the most expensive at $6.99.
Owner and Chef Fermin Soto described the menu selections, and I found a similar theme with each: meat of some sort (ham, beef, chicken, pork chop, sausage) is grilled with a combination of vegetables such as onions, green peppers, and jalapenos. The meat and vegetables are served on a flour or corn tortilla (thick or thin), then topped with a freshly made sauce and queso fresco. Cilantro is also a mainstay.
Soto, from Mexico City, said many of these dishes are family recipes that he brought here. They are typical meals that one would find in this region of Mexico. He admitted he is no stranger behind the grill; his chef experience began in Mexico City, working for a number of years.
My friend and I each sampled the enchilada dinners; I had the chicken and my friend, the beef. We also selected four tacos: cactus, pork chop, pork and chicken. A friendly and young lady took our order; we then selected our drinks from the cooler, I ordered a Fresca and my friend, a Bud Light. A modest selection of Mexican sodas and American beers are available.
La Flama is divided into two equal sections, one for the kitchen and register area, another for the dining area with booths and tables. A television hung from a corner of the dining area.
Our meals were brought to us, together with a selection of condiments: tomatillo salsa, hot chipotle sauce, pico de gallo and quartered limes.
The tacos were served on one plate, open faced. Each had two gently grilled corn tortillas as the base. These were piping hot; in fact, we had to wait a few minutes before we could handle them.
Each taco had a distinct flavor, and the ingredients on each were finely chopped, so it would actually fit on the tortilla. We sampled the cactus taco first. A large flat cactus, most likely nopales (a.k.a. prickly pear), are native to Mexico, and generally purchased fresh, as these were. They have a slightly tart flavor and are good for you: rich in vitamins (A, C, K, B6) and minerals (magnesium, potassium, and manganese, but also iron and copper). This cactus was sautéed with white onions and had a bold citrus flavor. With fresh cilantro, this taco had a refreshingly bold, complex flavor.
The steak taco was notable for its small pieces of crispy, grilled beef with chopped onions. The chicken was also grilled and had a vibrant citrus kick. Chopped white onions, cilantro and chives were part of this taco. The pork chop taco was, again, filled with small pieces of grilled pork with grilled white onions. These tacos were delectable without salsa, but we did dot a few bites with the fresh tomatillo and chipotle hot sauce.
Our enchilada dinners were equally impressive. Both were prepared in similar fashion yet in an unfamiliar style. Large corn tortillas were dipped in a red, spicy enchilada sauce then fried just enough to soften the tortilla and crisp the outer edges. These shells were then filled with a white creamy cheese and topped with the chopped grilled chicken and chopped grilled steak.
Also on our plates were refried beans and rice. The brown beans were creamy, with a slight buttery flavor to them. The rice was very light and fluffy, slightly red in color and mild in flavor.
Each plate also had a mound of shredded crispy iceberg lettuce and sliced pickled jalapeno peppers to use as needed. Then, the final touch was a generous scattering of queso fresco on top of all--firm white crumbs of fresh cheese with a mild, milky flavor that was pleasantly salty; and it does not readily melt but rather softens with heat.
The dinners were piled high, practically overflowing off of the plates. My friend and I both noticed the tastes of the tacos and dinners were distinct, unlike any others we have had. My friend even said that it reminded him of what he had when in Mexico City a number of years ago. The spices, flavors and style of serving were similar to what he experienced outside the States.
La Flama Taqueria
1122 E. 61st
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