I’m clearly not the first to report that the Mexican restaurant on the corner of High and York streets, El Rayo Taqueria (http://elrayotaqueria.com), is the best new(ish) thing going. I discovered El Rayo this summer, when it appeared to have really hit its stride, accommodating a big crowd with the plentiful outdoor seating.
The food is simple, fresh and satisfying. The people at El Rayo recognize that sometimes all you want is a fish taco and a beer. In other words, you can actually eat Mexican food without needing a huge nap afterward.
The casual setting has outdoor picnic tables have been covered with a Hawaiian print oilcloth and inside, patrons sit on stools at the counter or small tables. The décor is funky, bright and retro. Being outside at El Rayo on a sunny afternoon puts me in a better mood. And with the portable heaters outside, El Rayo makes outdoor dining a possibility past Labor Day.
Both times I have been to El Rayo, I have been very pleased with my choice. The first time I tried the rice and bean bowl with roasted vegetables ($6.75). The contrast of the warm rice and beans and veggies with the cool raw tastes of chopped radish and fresh cilantro was very satisfying. The guacamole ($4.50) is simple and the flavor of the avocado is not compromised by too much lime or salt. The rice and bean bowl and half of the guacamole was definitely a very satisfying lunch. My husband had one Pescado taco ($3.95), with grilled achiote seasoned fish fillet, sliced avocado, chipotle sauce, and a crunchy veggie slaw, and one Carne Asada taco ($3.95), with chargrilled steak with rajas, shredded lettuce, and lime. Both were outstanding.
The second time I went there I ordered the El Mercado Salad ($6.95) – spinach, jicama, toasted almonds, orange slices tossed with sweet peppers, marinated onions and ancho chili vinaigrette. It really did taste as good as it sounds – flavorful but not spicy, fresh and colorful. My only problem was that I secretly wanted two of them… This time, my husband tried the Bistec burrito ($7.50), filled with grilled beef with charred onions, peppers, and ranchero sauce. Paired with a tall Dos Equis, he claimed it took him to higher levels of consciousness.
The service was friendly and attentive and because the restaurant was a little more than half capacity on the late mid-week afternoon we went. There were lots of children around, and even small tables to accommodate the wee ones. My four-year-old opted for an order of local organic applesauce($1.50) and an order of rice and beans ($3.75). Aside from the fact that they don’t traditionally pair well, I was thrilled she finished it and she wasn’t handed a kids menu where the only choices were chicken nuggets or hamburger. There are a lot of options for small appetites and eating outside is a bonus for kids. I think she subconsciously allows us an extra ten minutes to enjoy our food when we pick an outdoor place.
There isn’t a ton of parking and finding a place nearby can get frustrating. It’s no secret that this place is good. Unless you don’t mind crowds, I would opt to try El Rayo on an off-time, like mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. And maybe stay into happy hour, which runs everyday from 4-6. Who can pass up a $5 margarita made with top shelf liquor?
El Rayo is open daily from 11am-11pm.