Restaurant review: Cuco's Taqueria

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As Cinco de Mayo prepares to rear its fishbowl-sized-margarita-drenched head, you're probably plotting to get your comida Mexicana on, right? Why not, then, smartly beat the burrito-buzzsawing crowds by igniting your fiesta well before noon? C'mon, I'm not talking about drinking all day long (though I'm not ruling it out either), I'm suggesting you jump-start your morning with a zesty and stunningly cheap Mexican breakfast at Cuco's.

Most people know Cuco's as one of the best full-service Mexican restaurants in Columbus and it is certainly that. But the family- and party-friendly Cuco's serves up some unbeatable first-meal values, too.

I'll admit at first it felt a bit odd settling into a roomy booth in the modest and amusingly Mexi-kitschy Cuco's at 9 a.m. I'm so used to digging into their fresh chips and salsa and hell-yeah margaritas (the Original, on the rocks and with half the sugar is my local benchmark) that lurking over eggs and diner-y coffee (sometimes flavored with cinnamon) almost seemed surreal.

So I ordered a Vampiro cocktail to get my mind right. Made with tequila, grapefruit soda and the bracing tequila chaser called sangrita, it tastes entertainingly citrusy, spicy, sweet and tart. Anyway, sucking on that Vampiro proved to be an inspired idea.

So did ordering the smorgasbordy El Tapatio platter ($6.25). Kinda like breakfast, lunch and dinner all on a single huge plate, it's a phenomenal deal. I got three eggs over greasy; a generous mound of addictive Mexican hash (crispy fried potato cubes blended with lots of properly fat-rendered and zingy chorizo); two terrific barbacoa tacos fashioned with soft corn tortillas wrapped around spicy, juicy and super-tender beef; and rich refried beans laced with melted cheese.

Equally giddy-making in variety and size and likewise providing killer value is the hog-out ensemble called Nuevo Amaneser ($7). The roll call on that one went like this: Three fried eggs (because three's better than two, right?) enticingly simmered in a zippy ranchero sauce then winningly plopped atop fried corn tortillas; soupy, full-flavored black beans; what the menu calls bacon or sausage but happily turned out to be more of that well-done chorizo; and two big and very nice pancakes (dessert's too often neglected in the morning, don't you think?) that were light, had attractively crisp exteriors, were pleasantly flavored with vanilla and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Yeah, that's a lot of food. For a more modest repast, you could just call it quits after the eggs in the previous dish (well, plus rice and beans don't think you're getting off that easy here) by ordering the good Huevos Rancheros ($5.25).

In general, Chilaquiles ($5) is a clever Mexican leftovers meal made by stewing yesterday's tortillas with condiments and other flavor enhancers. At Cuco's, this translated into a piquant, cooked salsa verde playing off of a fresh tomato pico de gallo plus three eggs (of course), cheese and sides of those irresistible breakfast potatoes and refried beans.

For something a little more unusual, but still nice, try the Oaxaqena ($6.75). This was three ample enchiladas crammed with scrambled eggs and spuds wholly slathered in a stout black bean sauce.

Like all of the breakfasts at Cuco's, it's an incredibly generous serving of food and flavor for a mere pittance of pesos.

Wake up early:

Cuco's Taqueria

2162 Henderson Rd., Upper Arlington