Having spent time living in both Central and South America, I often find myself craving the traditional food that I once took for granted. When this cultural desire far exceeds any salivary pleasure derived from Taco Bell’s less than authentic menu, I make my way to Grand Rapids’ Hispanic district. Store fronts marked Panadería and Supermercado immediately remind me of walking the streets of Managua or Quito and my taste buds begin to salivate.
Situated between a car dealership and residential housing is Tacos El Cuñado, a vibrantly painted taco house on Grandville Ave near Hall Street. Its façade, saturated in green and red paint, boldly advertises its contents by spelling out tacos in oversized yellow wooden letters across the miniature building’s rooftop.
Upon walking in, it is not unusual to be greeted by the rapid-fire vernacular from a Mexican game show host playing loudly on the small television mounted on the wall. Senses are continually being stimulated by the poignant smells and sizzling sounds emulating from the kitchen. The speed and precision of the chef is easily viewed through a small window next to the hand written menu. The menu is an overwhelming list of tacos, tapas, enchiladas, fajitas, and tamales. Despite my adventurous spirit I generally err on the boring side and order Tacos Regular. However, any satisfaction deficit I may have endured by ordering a simple chicken taco is quickly compensated when I fill my double wrapped corn tortilla taco with fresh guacamole. Made with crisp onions, fresh cilantro, zesty lime, and ripe tomatoes this guac has me licking the bowl and wondering what sort of secret additives are mixed in with the avocado medley.
Food can be enjoyed within the building where you can sip on a Jarritos (Mexican soda) while waiting for your order. Or, weather permitting, you can sit outdoors on the adjoining deck where you can binge on tortilla chips and house salsa while watching the steady flux of people purchase their locally grown produce at the small farmers market temporarily stationed in the parking lot.
There are three additional locations that you may find more convenient. The newest location at the Downtown Market serves the Taco del Mercado, a new item which incorporates fresh local ingredients supplied by the market’s other vendors.
Simply visiting a local Mexican restaurant may lack the allure of traveling to a Latin American country, Tacos El Cuñado offers affordable eats that deliver an authentic experience without leaving Grand Rapids’ city limits.