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El Paisa Taqueria y Tienda

November 05, 2010

By Anne Chovey

Special to The Herald-Mail

Move over, Taco Bell. There is a new Mexican restaurant in town and this one bills itself as having authentic Mexican food.

El Paisa Taqueria y Tienda is on East Washington Street, a block or so down from Hagerstown's Public Square. My friend, Tom Atoe, and I recently stopped in for lunch to check it out.

El Paisa Taqueria y Tienda is an interesting name and I was curious as to what it meant. With some guidance from our waitress and the Internet, I was able to figure out that "Paisa" means a countryman or someone who is just like you (think "paesan," in Italian.)

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A "taqueria" is technically a taco shop but is also a term that has come to mean Mexican restaurant. And "tienda" means market. So this restaurant works to make you feel as if you had dropped into a little Mexican shop to get a bite to eat and perhaps stock up on a few groceries.

We entered the front after dodging a dripping air conditioning unit, unfortunately situated directly over the door, into a small storefront with tables and chairs along the walls.

About halfway back into the room was a counter where we were to place our order. Along the wall to the left of the counter was a sign with various selections written upon it.

Basically, you were to select the type of dish first: taco, torta, burrito, fajita or quesadilla, and then select the filling.

Fillings included "carne asada" (steak), "lengua" (cow tongue), "al pastor" (grilled pork and onions), "pollo" (chicken), "carnitas" (fried pork) or "tripa" (beef tripe).  Tortas, which are thick sandwich-style bread filled with cilantro, onions, lettuce, tomato, salsa, avocado and beans along with a choice of meat, cost $5.99. Burritos, fajitas and quesadillas are $6.99. Tacos, corn and flour, are $2.25 and $2.59 respectively. Side orders of rice ($1.89) and beans (refried, $1.89 or combination, $3.25) are also available.

While I was intrigued by the sign out front proclaiming "authentic Mexican food" I found myself hesitating to go fully into the experiment by choosing cow tongue or beef tripe.

Instead, I picked the less adventurous chicken quesadilla. Tom chose the steak burrito. We also ordered a side of chips and salsa (not included in the meal). We gave our order to the young woman at the counter and she relayed it to the chef in the back through a window cut into the wall.

The drinks were located in a refrigerated cooler along the wall. Among the usual bottled water and American sodas were a number of intriguing Mexican drinks in glass bottles. There were fruit sodas and, most interesting, a coconut soda. We picked it up to look at it and saw that it was opaque with visible bits of coconut floating in it. Both Tom and I were watching our waistlines so we opted for water and Diet Coke.

While we waited for our food, we looked around. The restaurant is minimally decorated with some lurid paintings and other Mexican memorabilia. The back third of the room is actually a market selling a variety of canned and boxed goods.

The young woman who took our order soon brought it to our table. The service was prompt, but I also got the impression that our meal was freshly prepared for us.  At some Mexican restaurants, the food comes out so quickly that it seems to have been waiting for someone to order it.  Here, even the chips were freshly prepared, and our waitress explained when we ordered it that they might take a bit of time to prepare.

My quesadilla was huge with a big, puffy flour tortilla. It was full of diced chicken, cilantro, onions and lots of cheese. On the side was a nicely spicy salsa and extremely thick sour cream. It was delicious. The difficulty was that only plastic tableware was provided and cutting with a tiny plastic knife proved impossible.

Tom had an equally large burrito, which he also found tasty but impossible to manage with the plastic utensils. It was filled with the steak, onions, beans and rice. Fortunately, we are good friends so we just picked up our food and ate with our hands.

The chips were hot and salty and served with a salsa verde - a green salsa quite unlike the usual fare that can be found everywhere. It was deliciously spicy. However, the chips were a tad chewy instead of crisp. Nonetheless, they were fresh and we enjoyed them.

When we returned to the counter to pay our bill, our waitress asked if we liked the chips. I assured her we did. The chef came to the window and greeted us.

I have been to Mexico once and ate lunch there. We crossed the border at Nogales, Ariz., and walked into Nogales, Mexico.  The trip to El Paisa Taqueria was much easier and one that I will be happy to make again, next time I am hungry for authentic Mexican food.

- Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Restaurant review

El Paisa Taqueria y Tienda

2 1/2 stars (out of 5)

Food: 3

Service: 2 (The restaurant is designed to be self-serve)

Ambiance: 2  1/2

Value: 3

Address: 40 E. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown

Phone: 240-625-9156

Food:  Authentic Mexican

Parking and handicapped accessibility:  There is on-street parking in front of the restaurant and the Hagerstown central parking lot behind the restaurant.

Reservations: Not necessary.

Website:  None

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.

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