“If you touch me, I swear that I will vomit on you with all the love and passion that I have,” she said, from the depths of the chimichanga hole she had sunk into — laying prone on the bed, arms wrapped around her stomach. This, friends, is the ugly aftermath of The Original Taco House.
I had driven past the “OTH” on Powell countless times in the last four years. Meditating on its festive Mexican fa퀌_ade, the multicolored lights and the big kitschy sign proudly proclaiming its name, I’d think, “That place looks fun. I should go there sometime.” I had no way of knowing that the joyful, south-of-the- border shtick was simply a siren song luring innocent passers-by with a promise of fiesta. In fact, as my girlfriend Katherine and I crossed the parking lot in a heavy drizzle last Tuesday, I was ebullient with the hope of spice and the flavor of Cancun.
We were seated close to the fireplace, a large fire blazing fiercely. Scanning our surroundings, both of us smiled broadly at the faux plaster, artfully falling away in faux chunks from the faux brick wall beneath. Just like Mexico! Three large chandeliers lit the dinning room with an amber light that seemed to wrap everything in a cozy glow. The OTH was looking promising.
The first disappointment came in the form of a mediocre salsa that had a distinct marinara flavor. The chips were good, clearly homemade, but unfortunately the chips and salsa experience often rests solely on the salsa. The OTH concoction just didn’t have enough gumption to successfully open for a meal. No matter, our incredibly kind waitress had brought our Cadillac margaritas and we were still suffused in the funky charm of the d퀌�cor. The margaritas were not necessarily of lip-smacking caliber, but they did their job. Soon my girlfriend and I were bubbling with conversation, picking over the menu.
There was one startling omission from the OTH menu: fajitas. Doubt began to scratch at the OTH veneer. The margarita helped push the doubt aside. Hell, who needs fajitas? This is the OTH, right? If I truly wanted to test the place I would order the original beef taco. We placed our order confidently, Katherine was optimistic about the chimichanga, and the waitress assured me that the beef taco was indeed the way to go. I ordered two.
Hope was renewed with the tortilla soup that came with our dinners. This savory and alluring little bowl of flavor was something that I could develop a craving for. The fresh spike of cilantro beautifully offset the spicy heat that was just enough to warm the mouth. The occasional crunch of a salty tortilla strip added a lovely dimension to the soup.
We were still talking about the soup when our main dishes arrived. A certain worry began to grow. Katherine’s chimichanga was a lump of brown in the center of her plate, surrounded by an unappetizing mish-mash of rice and beans. A slimy green trail of “guacamole” trailed down the side as if it had been squirted from a caulk gun.
My tacos were individually wrapped in amber paper on either side of a bowl of rice and beans. They were intimidating things, bigger than my whole face. Unwrapping one, a small avalanche of lettuce fell to my plate with a weak contingent of tomatoes. I shrugged and made my attack on the faux Hispanic gastronomical giant. Normally, when one eats a taco, one enjoys tasting all the taco bits at the same time. So, in one bite of a good taco, one might enjoy the tang of the meat in harmony with the cheese while the light, vegetable flavor of the lettuce and tomato accompany. Eating the OTH taco was more like excavation. The OTH formula for a “heavenly taco” seems to consist of a quarter pound of seasoned beef, topped with a half pound of cheese, all resting beneath a half of a head of shredded iceberg lettuce and one quarter of a tomato, chopped. I chewed my way through each layer, never getting a full taco experience.
I unwrapped my second taco and removed most of the lettuce. The experience wasn’t much better. The sheer quantity of meat and cheese was overwhelming. Soon, my head was beginning to throb. Looking across the table, I noted that Katherine was having a similar experience. She suggested that, considering the sauce on her chimichanga seemed to be made of lead, we should ship it to Iraq, for our soldiers to fashion into bullets.
Soon we had surrendered, a large portion of our food uneaten. As we waited for the check, we began to reminisce about the best Mexican food we had ever had, both of us leaning back in the booth, thinking of taco stands in Arizona and that wonderful, run-down hole-in-the-wall on Southeast 82nd Avenue. Perhaps this is the most damning evidence of the OTH’s sub-par quality. It is a rare occurrence in my life when a meal is so bad that it inspires daydreams of much better meals.
We left the OTH with our meal weighing us down, the lights from the restaurant now an ironic statement. There had been no fiesta for us. In fact, any resolve that we previously had to go out after our meal had disappeared. All we wanted to do was lay on the bed and groan, emitting noxious smells. Our cat wouldn’t even come near us.
If you do eat at the OTH, I sincerely hope that you can find enjoyment. Please realize, dear reader, you will be living with the OTH for hours afterward. Like a bad party guest, the taco lingers.