Fast-casual, Polaris-area restaurant delivers with generous servings of fresh, affordable, taco-truck-style offerings
It wasn’t that long ago when a restaurant such as Tula Taqueria would have been fairly rare in Central Ohio. Nowadays, though, the growing number of places around town that prepare fresh and flavorful taco-truck-style fare in a convenient indoor setting, like Tula Taqueria does, are nearly taken for granted. They shouldn’t be.
Serving for a little more than a year in a Polaris-area strip mall, Tula is a duly popular, fast-casual Mexican spot that offers a sizable dining room. Although far from posh, the space is so bright and tidy it positively gleams.
Among Tula’s other ambient assets are an upbeat and modern, Latin-pop soundtrack; oversized, refrigerator-magnet-style “vegetables” positioned near elevated TVs usually tuned to sports; colorful Mexican pottery bearing flowers; an Aztec calendar facsimile and extra-large, decorative “loteria” cards (loteria is a bingo-like game popular in Mexico) hanging on a wall; plus an immaculately maintained salsa bar.
That last feature provides six kinds of entertainment. Two of the vibrant sauces should be approached with extreme caution, though: the intense salsa asada, alluringly redolent of roasted vegetables, and the thicker-and-richer salsa Jalisco. Fearless diners trying either of these can neutralize some of their sting by adding dabs of the nearby crema.Get fresh Alive fare delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
The thin-but-flavorful, recommended “roja” (red) and “verde” (green) salsas are labeled as “medium,” but seem hotter. The most versatile condiment among the six is probably the bright-yet-creamy guacamole salsa, which offers a moderate kick.
Vehicles for these include hefty, delicious and affordable tortas, sopes, tostadas, burritos and “street-style” tacos — warm soft corn tortillas brimming with appealingly seasoned fillings (primarily meats) garnished with onions and cilantro. Because all of Tula’s fillings are winners, playing the mix-and-match menu game is a can’t-lose proposition.
One triumphant pairing is the addictive chorizo on a sope ($3.50) — a not-oily, crisply fried, thick masa disk layered with rich and flavorful refried beans, cheese, lettuce, crema, onions and tomatoes.
The more modest tostadas have the same garnishes. Try one with Tula’s terrific carnitas ($3) — inhalable bits of fat-edged pork.
Pot-roast sandwich fans should target an immense torta packed with Tula’s juicy, tender barbacoa ($8). The aforementioned garnishes, plus mayo and fresh avocado, join the comforting beef in a good-quality telera roll that’s griddle-toasted on every side.
Barbacoa, and the other meats I’ve mentioned, taste great in Tula’s on-point street tacos, too ($2.25 to $3). Ditto for the seared-and-chopped shrimp, and the fragrant adobada — zippy, spice-rubbed chopped pork.
Bowls ($6.50 to $9) are a satisfying option here. Essentially huge burritos without tortillas, they consist of flavorful Mexican rice and pinto beans (or black beans, which are fine in this context, but bland if eaten alone), plus loads of a chosen filling topped with an overflowing salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, onions and crema squiggles. Tula’s tinga (moderately spicy stewed chicken) or its fajita vegetables — or a half-and-half serving of each — are apropos bowl accompaniments.
For another burrito twist, try the locally uncommon, poutine-conjuring California Burrito ($9.50). This enormous, San Diego-style burrito is distinguished by its replacement of rice and beans with crisp French fries. Stick with “SoCal” tradition and order it with carne asada — at Tula, you’ll receive nubs of nicely seasoned, griddle-crisped, lean steak.
For a starter or snack, the wonderfully crisp, fried rolled chicken taquitos enveloping good, stewed meat and adorned with crema and guacamole salsa ($5 for three, served with salad-style garnishes) are highly recommended. But even an order of chips with lime-brightened guacamole ($3.50) or the rich, tangy queso dip ($3) will provide palate-pleasing proof that relatively speedy and inexpensive, strong-performing Tula isn’t a place you should take for granted.