Tacos Mi Tierra

The Rogue Valley has a lot of places to get tacos. There are taco trucks and Mexican markets dishing out authentic flavors, a multitude of mid-priced, sit-down restaurants serving surprisingly similar specialties, as well as our fair share of fast-food franchises, some of them facing a federal suit over exactly what fills their tacos. (I'm looking at you, Taco Bell.)

A new taqueria, Tacos Mi Tierra, is a fresh option in downtown Medford. It opened in late December in the space that for years had housed various incarnations of the Yellow Submarine Sandwich Shop, joining a row of restaurants that cater to college students from the adjacent Rogue Community College campus and Higher Education Center shared with Southern Oregon University.

While hearty portions and reasonable prices, along with a happy hour and owner Chris Dufour's plans for eventual late-night hours, seem perfect for a youthful crowd, a diverse mix of office workers, retirees, young families and students filled the restaurant when my husband and I stopped in for lunch.

It was Taco Tuesday, as every Tuesday is at this taqueria, so tacos, which normally cost $1.50, were only $1. That gave us the perfect excuse to try one with each of the five types of meat that are marinated and prepared in the tiny kitchen — asada, pastor, pollo, carnitas and lengua. Alas, they already were out of carnitas, chunky shreds of slow-cooked pork that are one of my favorite burrito fillings.

But four tacos are plenty, and all the other options were tasty, too. I always like carne asada's savory slivers of steak, and the chicken pieces in the pollo taco had crispy edges and a moist interior. The pastor, a concoction of pork marinated in a chili sauce and traditionally roasted on a spit, was rich and spicy.

However, it is lengua, tender and flavorful beef tongue, that is rapidly becoming one of my favorite fillings for tacos. I love the beefy bits of meat, accented with diced onion, a sprinkling of cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

Tacos Mi Tierra also offers a wide array of salsas, all made on the premises, that can add an extra spike of flavor.

The roughly chopped pico de gallo will taste better in August when tomatoes burst with flavor again. The salsa verde is bright and tasty, and a ruddy chili sauce, which I especially liked, is deeply colored but surprisingly mild. An avocado-lime sauce provides a zesty, creamy drizzle that will please palates of those who avoid the hot stuff, and it's blended with the chili salsa to create another option.

Even with such a delicious array of tacos, we ordered a burrito, too. They can feature any of the meat choices for $5 or just hearty portions of beans and rice and cheese for $4. Adding guacamole and sour cream boosts the price $1.

The burritos are massive and garnished with a little shredded lettuce, cheese and chopped tomato. The flour tortilla is lightly browned and crisped on the grill, which leaves it rather greasy. The mass-produced corn tortillas on the tacos suffered the same fate, a problem perhaps compounded by the fact that we arrived late in what appeared to be a very busy lunch hour.

Quesadillas ($5.50), nachos ($6.50) and the Mexican-style sandwiches known as tortas ($5) round out the menu. Meatless versions of quesadillas and nachos are $1 less.

Bargain hunters will like the array of daily specials, which include discount margaritas on Mondays, as well as other drink specials (cheap tequila shots, anyone?), those $1 tacos and a chance for customers to propose a special of the day on "why not?" Wednesdays.

The restaurant has a full liquor license and serves a variety of beers, including Pabst Blue Ribbon, the standard Mexican selections and an IPA and a lager from Southern Oregon Brewing Co. Jarritos, the fruity Mexican sodas, and a giant jar of horchata, a milky rice drink infused with cinnamon, also are available.

Dufour said he plans to add outdoor seating when the weather warms up, as well as late-night, weekend hours. That should only make this lively addition to downtown more vibrant and more welcome.

— Anita Burke

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