The month of March ushers in spring and the NCAA basketball playoffs. On the first day of spring—also the first day of March Madness—I took the opportunity to check out Boise's newest downtown taqueria.
Bustling with activity, the place was a near full house made up of an equal mix of both suits and students. About half of them seemed focused on the basketball game on the TV monitors while the others focused on their meals.
The dining space was made inviting by afternoon sunlight pouring through the front window. The sun's rays highlighted the warm yellow and green colors painted on the walls and ceiling. A row of landscapes painted by the owner, Wendy Blickenstaff, adorned one of the walls and added even more color.
While Mesa Taqueria offers seating both inside and out, it wasn't quite warm enough to eat outside yet. Besides, the basketball fan in me was aware that I couldn't watch the basketball game from out there.
Just like hardwood floors are essential to basketball, fresh food should be a staple of taquerias. Mesa Taqueria seems to know that and wants customers to know it, too. Their menu pledges "fresh ingredients, hand prepared daily." They also promise: "No freezers. No can openers. No kidding."
We walked up to the counter and scanned the lineup. We ordered two veggie tacos ($2.89), a carnitas quesadilla ($5.69) with the optional guacamole ($1) and sour cream (50 cents), and a small order of a seasonal special, pollo poblano ($5.25). Each order came with a side of house-made tortilla chips and tomato-cilantro salsa. However, neither the chips nor the salsa scored with my taste buds. In basketball parlance, they reminded me of a free throw that came up short.
The veggie tacos looked inviting. They featured pinto beans, salsa, Monterey Jack cheese and generous chunks of avocado, all wrapped in double-thick corn tortillas. The combination looked dazzling but performed in a more pedestrian manner. As any basketball player will tell you, looks can only get you so far. You need skills, too. Unfortunately, these tacos were a bit like a basketball player who looked better than he played.
So, what about the carnitas quesadilla? Based on the menu, they showed great promise: slowly braised pork combined with Monterey Jack cheese (and the added sour cream and guacamole we'd requested), all grilled in an oversized flour tortilla. They partially lived up to that promise. The pork was tender, moist and flavorful, but the overall combination was no slam dunk. This was more like a well-designed play that wasn't well-executed.
Last but definitely not least, we turned to the pollo poblano. In this dish, we found the undisputed star of our meal. It was a hearty stew made with grilled chicken breast simmered in a roasted poblano chile sauce and served over Mexican rice. It didn't need to have anything added, but a sizable assist from the table's bottle of red salsa didn't hurt. Either way, the pollo poblano was a champ, and it won the lunch round.
Like many basketball teams with just one star that still make it deep into the playoffs, the pollo poblano carried the day for Mesa Taqueria. It was good enough that I'll be back for more. Maybe even a large order ($8.75) next time.
In my book, their pollo poblano is not only a season special, it's the MVP of their menu.
—Curt Nichols is broke. His NCAA basketball brackets went bust.