Restaurant review: Revived Tex-Mex eatery Talita’s remembers what made it famous

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From the July 18, 2013 edition

Reviewing the return of Talita’s to Clintonville is, I’d suppose, like writing about a late-stage Elvis concert. I mean, how do you review an out-of-touch, one-time king who long ago abdicated his throne to more “with-it” acts? I’ll answer that by saying you don’t damn the legend, but instead remember what made it famous in the first place.

Time for some backstory — which in this case is easy since Talita’s menu spins a sorta fairytale narrative of itself (far be it for me to call this self-mythologizing). In a nutshell (hard taco shell?), Talita’s Columbus restaurant roots reach back to the 1940s when Tony Prince and Talita Arroyo — his Mexican bride from Brownsville, Texas — opened an Italian eatery. Fast forward to the late ’60s when, in a pre-El Vaquero era, the couple opened Talita’s, a groundbreaking Tex-Mex joint. Its blazing popularity and success dictated bigger digs, spawned some clones, and eventually flamed out about a decade ago, leaving only a Grove City outlet to carry the Talita’s torch.

This brings us to the defunct Graffiti Burger spot at Arcadia and High, where Talita’s has sparked up again. Locals with fond memories of this food will be happy to know that everything is still as cheap and tastes just like it always did at this fast-foody iteration — albeit without alcohol or the spinach option and with an abbreviated menu. Newbies to the Talita’s experience should proceed with caution and know that the stuff is sloppy, salty, leaden and basically a few components rearranged into same-tasting, differently named dishes.

Oh hell, go ahead and get that “Corn Nacho w/peppers” ($1) you’ve missed. It’s nothing you couldn’t make with gobs of yellow cheese, jarred jalapenos, pre-packaged tostadas and a microwave — but it’s satisfying in a kooky-junky way and an amazing price for reviving a memory.

The thick, rich and almost-guacamole Avocado dip with chips ($4.25) is another OK pick. The chips come in a brown paper bag.

At Talita’s, you eat the “classics” — Mexican Layered Enchiladas and Wet n’ Cheesy Burritos, both $8 — with a spoon. Each (get ’em with chicken) is gigantic, swamped in about a half-gallon of ranchera sauce plus half-a-pound of yellow cheese, and definitely tastes better after drinking.

Photo by Meghan Ralston