When El Sol moved into their new location on 68 S. Carlton St., previously owned by a Chinese restaurant, they found a mural of pandas climbing bamboo trees on a dividing window wall. To make the scene better fit with their Mexican cuisine, they painted sombreros on the pandas’ heads and tacos in their paws and called it good. This was a few years ago.
Last week, Reddit user Bombaskos posted a picture of El Sol’s mural in the r/mildlyinteresting forum, and El Sol’s popularity increased, at least in the eyes of the internet. The photo has been upvoted 199,000 times on Reddit in the last week. Given El Sol’s recent attention, I decided to check it out.
El Sol is noted in online reviews for their array of hot sauces, authentic Mexican food, friendly waitstaff, chips and guacamole, speed, daily specials, and even, according to one reviewer, food that still tastes good reheated the next day — hello, college students.
If you go on Tuesdays between 2 and 8 p.m., tacos are a dollar each. You’re welcome.
El Sol dedicates half their menu space to describing tacos — beef steak, shredded beef, roasted pork, sauteed pork skin, pork skin and carnitas, and then a section just for the vegetarian tacos. You can top most of them with onions and cilantro; some come with an avocado slice nestled on top. Usually, the tacos sell $7 for five, or $1.50 each. The taco shells are homemade and fluffy, yet baby-sized, maybe three inches in diameter, so you are not getting a lot of bang for your Taco Tuesday buck, but they sure are cuter that way. I ate six.
The atmosphere screams extreme casual. With plastic-covered tablecloths, Coca-Cola cups, paint chipping from the bright blue walls, music that makes me want to learn how to salsa dance sitting down, and the dessert menu advertised on the napkin dispensers, this is not the place for black ties. Or any ties, for that matter, unless you are the type of diner who ties knots in your straw sheaths.
For something quirky to look at, if you are not seated in the room with the sombreroed pandas, check out the wall of painted garden pots stuffed with real, live cacti. Mesmerizing. This is best done while munching on El Sol’s more-so mesmerizing chips and guacamole, which are honestly the best I have ever had. The chips are just right: warm, greasy, crispy, crunchy, air-bubbly and covered in salt. The guacamole is chunky and zings with fresh cilantro. This appetizer costs $3.50, but this is because they homemake the chips fresh just for you. Also because if God has a favorite chip, it might just be the kind from El Sol.
When it comes time to pay your bill, just walk up to the bar and tell them what you ordered. They will not bring you a check. You will wait there, watching your waitress flirt with the bartender for ten minutes, checkless, as you fiddle with your grease-pilled napkins.
Thanks, Reddit, for finding another gem, right under my nose. The atmosphere may be lax, and the building layout may be awkward, and I may have ruined many a napkin wiping off Godly chip grease, but the food sure does deserve the extra attention.