Places to get authentic Mexican fare are scattered around Lexington like tumbleweeds. You never know where you will encounter the real thing. Among the relatively surprising locations is Winchester Road, given more to the pleasures of nightlife than dining. Yet the street has a small stretch that houses the occasional restaurant; that is where newcomer Taqueria Las Huastecas has found a home.
The atmosphere is friendly and unpretentious — televisions, bright lights, that sort of thing. A minimalist version of a cantina comes to mind. Nevertheless, this is one of the myriad spots in Lexington where true Mexican café food is available.
If you love pork rinds, order these on your gorditas, two thick discs of stuffed fried masa (corn meal). Unlike the crunchy fried variety of pig skin, this is the classic chicharrones en chile: tender, buttery, bite-size pieces of pork rind bathed in a spicy tomatillo sauce, with a texture midway between simmered mushrooms and poached tomatoes.
Pork rinds not your thing? A great alternative are slices of nopales (cactus paddles, minus thorns, naturally). They come on gorditas but are terrific when layered on an open-faced sope — again, fried masa — then smeared with frijoles and topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado, crema and queso anejo, a grated dry cheese that resembles Parmesan.
There are also platters from the grill. One is called alambre; it is Mexico's ubiquitous skillet-style dish that looks like a hash, and is as varied in its ingredients. Alambres are hearty; this one had sautéed onions and green peppers that were buried below beef, generous chunks of bacon and a cover of stringy melted cheese. As if this weren't enough to eat, homemade corn tortillas, a simple lettuce salad, yellow rice and refried beans are included. This is definitely enough for two, and costs just $9.99. But the beef alone is so delicious you could easily forego the platter and order just the meat.
At the end of the day, though, Las Huastecas is a taqueria, and the wonderful soft tacos are the best reason to come here. Each one, topped with a bit of cilantro and onion, is full of rich individual flavors. Three would make a fine lunch on the go. At $1.50 each, well, you do the math.
The taco with shreds of mild stewed chicken is pure comfort food. The goat barbacoa consists of rich bits of ruddy grilled kid; there's not one gamey bite. While the pibil doesn't necessarily resemble the citrus-soaked pork of the Yucatan, it has a great bite of acid and makes a wonderful snack.
Unless you just don't like avocado, a side of guacamole ($1.99), blended with chopped cilantro, diced onion and tomato and speckles of minced jalapeño, is a must to go with the basket of chips. I wish, however — and this message is for all Mexican restaurants — that the chips were fried fresh to order. It would make all the difference in the world.
When it comes to eating, Winchester Road is usually where we go for a terrific fish sandwich at Charlie's or the legendary doughnuts at Spalding's, but now there is Taqueria Las Huastecas to add to the small but solid list of reasons to call this area, of all things, a food destination.
Taqueria Las Huastecas
Address: 919 Winchester Rd.
Phone: (859) 381-1804
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Closed Sun.
Other: Parking lot. No alcohol. Vegetarian options. Family-friendly. Small plates, $1.50-$5.99; sandwiches and burritos, $5.99; soups (only on weekends), $8.99-$9.99; grilled platters and entrees, $7.50-$21.99; desserts, $1.99-$3.50; kids' menu, $3.99.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.