It's early on a Tuesday night, so early you can still nab a parking place on South Broadway. But inside Adelitas Cocina Y Cantina, nearly every seat at the bar is taken and there's a wait for tables. We crowd by the hostess stand and make small talk, happy to have arrived when we did -- the line behind us isn't getting any shorter -- and even happier that within minutes, we'll be drinking margaritas along with half the population of Platt Park.
Around us, people wave their arms to flag down servers, desperately trying to order another drink before happy hour expires. (It doesn't do any good to call out; between the music and all the people, the noise level is simply too high.) Not that anyone will stop drinking when the clock strikes six. This isn't Cinderella; there is no magic coach that will turn into a pumpkin at the end of happy hour. All that will happen is that the price of house margaritas and the chips you crave along with them will go up a notch. The real deal won't expire until closing time, when tacos return to their normal plated price ($8.95 to $10.95 for three), up from the Tuesday special of $1 per piece ($4 for shrimp). But even when this day's deal ends, another will start.
See also: Behind the Scenes at AdelitasSpecials like this -- not just Taco Tuesdays, but Tamale Thursdays and 2-for-1 Margarita Mondays -- give Adelitas the slick polish of a chain. It's a feeling heightened by the wipe-off, scroll-like menus, sparkly sombreros and oversized mural of La Adelita, a big-bosomed soldier in the Mexican revolutionary war. But Adelitas isn't a chain. It's owned by members of two local families, including Brian Rossi, who's been in the restaurant business a long time and has a sense for what people want.
Rossi's first introduction to restaurants came more than twenty years ago, when he took a job with his aunt, restaurateur Judy Pasquini. More recently, he spent five years as general manager at Mezcal, where he picked up a thing or two about Mexican restaurants before opening his own eighteen months ago. "I'm doing stuff that worked for me in the past," he says. What he means is this: He's cracked the code that every restaurateur in town has been trying to decipher, which is how to give a historically slow night the earning potential of a weekend. "Tuesday is our biggest night," he tells me later. "It will even top most Fridays and Saturdays."
The success of Taco Tuesdays says a few things: People like cheap drinks, and they also like cheap tacos. Dig deeper, though, and it also indicates that the appeal of Adelitas lies in the complete package -- the ambience, the deals, the energy -- and not just the food. If you don't believe that, come for lunch someday and let the food speak for itself.Some of it is very good, like the guajillo-laced pozole, a family recipe served with a plate of chopped radishes, cabbage and cilantro-flecked onions for freshness and crunch. The mole is ruddy brown and full of flavor -- without the cocoa or unsweetened chocolate that's often lurking in the mix, but intriguing all the same. Sopapillas here are puffy, addictive triangles -- entirely unnecessary after a meal, but hard to turn down. Ditto for the sugar-dusted churros. But in the stark light of day, with no tequila to make the peace, I was struck by the greasiness of the carnitas, chunked and fried in vegetarian shortening that the kitchen melts down for this purpose. Sopes -- those fat masa pancakes topped with carnitas, cabbage and cheese -- tasted like old oil. So did the chiles rellenos, and the batter on the poblanos -- even the parts untouched by sauce -- was as soft as uncooked chicken skin. While a cheese and a chicken enchilada were both tasty, with shredded white and dark meat in the latter hinting at the onions, tomatoes and garlic it had been cooked with, the spinach-mushroom filling inside a third was glossy with oil. And although the carne asada wasn't oily, it was tough enough to tussle with a knife. Keep reading for more on Adelitas.