It’s always nice to see a restaurant doing well, especially in a location that has seen its share of failures.
The spot at 6151 E. Broadway, which now houses the fast-casual Calle Tepa — Mexican Street Grill, has been home to no fewer than five other eateries since I started working at the Star a decade ago.
Thai, Chinese, Puerto Rican, health food. Nothing would stick.
Then Calle Tepa moved in last year, the brainchild of JorDan Fuller and his mom, Emma Vera, who owns the Guadalajara Original Grill on East Prince Road.
Their concept: quick-and-easy Mexican street dishes at affordable prices.
It’s a formula that seems to have worked.
The restaurant was packed during two recent visits, from its heavy wooden tables and booths near the large windows facing the bustling traffic of Broadway, to the cozy bar area toward the back, surrounded by flat screen televisions.
We imagine the atmosphere was probably a big draw.
The restaurant is inviting. High energy Latin dance music plays on speakers amid hanging tin stars. On one wall in the main dining area is a large mural of a Mexican street scene. Across from it is the menu, painted floor-to-ceiling in bright oranges, yellows, greens, reds and blues.
Customers are invited to look it over, then order at the counter in a Sauce/Pei Wei/Chipotle fashion.
The open kitchen allows you to watch the cooks at work, preparing food that we found to be tasty and a good value for the money.
Calle Tepa offers burritos, tacos, quesadillas, tortas and other traditional fare, most of which can be ordered with different types of meat or vegetables and with or without different styles of beans and rice.
We skipped the sides so that we could sample as many headliners as possible.
Our dining experiences yielded more hits than misses.
The manchego quesadilla ($5.99) was among our favorites. Served in four generous slices, the cheese gooed out from the soft flour tortilla surrounding it and provided a mild, lingering sweetness, not unlike a good Colby.
We delighted over the torta ($6.99), which we ordered with carnitas, served between slices of fresh baked bread from Alejandro’s Tortilla Factory, with lettuce, onion, cilantro, mayo and guacamole. The bread was soft and the carnitas tender. It definitely ranked high on our top 10 tortas of Tucson list.
We decided to take advantage of the restaurant’s vegetarian options with a taquito con papa ($2.49) which came in a corn tortilla, lightly grilled, or “tepa” style, with chunks of potato, lettuce, cheese and pico de gallo. The potatoes were soft in texture, almost fluffy — not a terrible way to get your daily carb intake.
We liked it better than the carnitas “tepa” taco ($2.99), which was light on the carnitas and heavy on everything else, namely the lettuce, pico de gallo and cheese. It was so packed with toppings, that they completely drowned out the taste of the meat.
The grilled mahi street taco ($2.99), came covered in a creamy Chipotle sauce with a light, yet crunchy grilled mahi underneath, while the Sonoran hot dog ($3.99) came with a plump dog and a bounty of toppings, including a tasty mix of mustard and mayonnaise.
Our one and only disappointment during either trip was the two enchilada plate ($6.99), which was saturated in a thick, red sauce. Obviously, red sauce is a staple of many an enchilada dish. But this particular sauce was too much, too rich. It completely overpowered the taste of the barbacoa within.
Every meal, even the best of the best, got an extra kick from the multiple salsas provided at the salsa bar. Options included a salsa verde and “house hot” salsa.
Service was quick. Another plus that we hope will keep Calle Tepa around for the long haul.