Tacos Rudos proves a main card draw at Budd Dairy Food Hall
The lucha libre-themed taqueria delivers big flavors, including stellar al pastor
Occupying a secluded space equipped with its own entrance, seating and TV, Tacos Rudos almost seems like a separate and autonomous eatery inside the Budd Dairy Food Hall. And the pocket-sized Mexican restaurant was among the best taquerias to open in Columbus last year.
In addition to a couple of tables and counter-style seating, Tacos Rudos features a busy little open kitchen with black-and-white tiles where servers press fresh corn tortillas into being and then toast and puff them up on a griddle. Another telltale indicator that Tacos Rudos isn't a run-of-the-mill establishment is a prominent vertical spit, aka “trompo,” where al pastor meat is slowly seared and later sliced.
Above the counter where orders are taken, beside elevated bottles of glimmering, tropical-colored Jarritos Mexican sodas ($3.25 each), lies a link to this place’s name: masks of the type that might be worn by “rudos” — the predetermined bad guys of the sports-related spectacle called lucha libre, or freestyle professional Mexican wrestling.
As explained to me by a pleasantly chatty server at this family operated eatery overseen by “chef partner” Ana Cruz of Oaxaca, Mexico, a member of the Cruz family was once a professional rudo in Mexico City. I can safely report that I didn't encounter a single bad guy at Rudos, professional or otherwise. Instead, I encountered consistently good food and service.
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The small menu delivered big flavors. Only four proteins were available, but each arrived amply packed into a delicious taco worth its relatively hefty price.
The super-juicy, cinnamon-tinged al pastor meat lived up to its spit-roasted promise. In a taco ($4.50), it’s showcased with pineapple playing off spicy and vibrant salsa verde, onions, cilantro and a good house tortilla. The same accessories, minus pineapple, flattered the asada taco ($4.50), which starred diced, almost-tender beef with a persuasive steak-like flavor.
Fish taco fans will find a winner here (pescado taco, $5.50): crackly, beer-battered red snapper outfitted with crisp red cabbage, pico de gallo, plus a rich-yet-spicy “serrano cream sauce.” The same bold accouterments, plus queso fresco and cilantro, added extra punch to the pollo taco ($4.50), a zippy and tomatoey standout that featured a tinga-style chicken stew. While rather salty, it induced several later cravings.
Meats and other core ingredients are reconfigured into various guises — a common practice in taquerias. So that same fine stewed chicken topped notably crisp and light, freshly fried tortilla chips in a moderate-sized but far above average order of nachos ($11) garnished with rich queso sauce and pico de gallo.
The hearty tortas ($12) were distinguished, as well. Expected fillings — chosen meats, mayo, guacamole and red cabbage — joined a surprising layer of crispy, frico-like fried cheese in a flavorful bun griddled to crunchy on its interior but cool on the exterior, at least in my case.
A similar fried-to-brittle cheese treatment added distinction to quesadillas enveloped in floppy, oversized house corn tortillas ($11). A crinkly sheet of toasted cheese likewise added textural pizzazz to the excellent gringa ($9) — an open-faced, quesadilla-like delight whose frico element was abundantly topped with the always-welcome components of Rudos’ al pastor tacos.
A great partner for such savory items is the refreshingly tart-sweet hibiscus drink ($3.75), a first-rate version of the punch-like iced beverage made with hibiscus flowers that elsewhere in town is called “agua de Jamaica” or just “Jamaica.”
If you’re having the tres leches cake ($6) — and you should — that heaving slab of dairy-saturated, yet structurally sound, light and airy cake with a bonus layer of strawberry jam pairs best with “coffeechata” ($5), another highly recommended beverage. Word-wise, coffeechata is a portmanteau of its ingredients — coffee and horchata (milky, sweetened rice water). Drink-wise, it’s a mood-elevating treat that conjures a cinnamon-scented, happy marriage between Thai iced coffee and iced chai latte.
1086 N. 4th St. in the Budd Dairy Food Hall, Italian Village