In a city with as many Mexican restaurants as Milwaukee, Guanajuato Mexican Restaurant (2301 S. Howell Ave.) stands out by blending in.
Away from the drunken, mechanical pepper riding bachelorette parties of Fifth and National, GTO (as it’s affectionately known) occupies a small, nondescript storefront at the mega-intersection of Lincoln, Howell and Kinnickinnic avenues in Bay View. I had driven by it probably hundreds of times without ever giving it a second thought – but today, I’m a full-fledged convert.
Inside, GTO is small. Tiny, in fact, with just nine tables plus six seats at the faux-marble counter. The bright red, blue, orange and yellow walls are decorated with typical Mexican trappings – sombreros, vivid paintings of tranquil Mexican scenescapes, ads for Corona – and twisting ivy crawls across the white drop ceiling. It’s all rather festive.
The menu offers the usual assortment of Mexican fare – fajitas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas – as well as some lesser-known specialties such as my personal favorite huaraches (thick flour tortillas topped with beans, meat or vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, onions, cilantro and avocado) and sopes (an extra-thick corn cake topped with beans, meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and guacamole). Describing those dishes reminds me of the old Jim Gaffigan bit:
Mexican food is great, but it is all the same, it’s almost a conspiracy. It’s almost like they had a meeting 200 years ago in Mexico City, and one guy stood up and he was like, ‘Hey, the reason I got everyone here is pretty simple, I figured we could rename this one entree seven times and sell it to the North Americans.
Anyway, my brother-in-law loves tamales, and he spoke highly of the one that came with the Combinacion he ordered, which also features an enormous chile relleno and a ground beef hard shell taco. It’s a massive platter of food (a steal at $8.75) that he nearly polished off. Tamales have never been my thing, so you’ll have to take his clean plate as an endorsement.
At $12.99, my wife’s shrimp tacos were the most expensive thing we ordered (typical). But overflowing with perfectly grilled shrimp, they’re well worth the price. The guacamole also teeters on t he expensive side ($5.95 for an appetizer), but it’s simple and fresh while the complimentary salsa is thick and chunky (none of that thin, watery stuff here) – though the chip basket can be slow to be refilled.
Popular but not overcrowded, GTO hasn’t been forced – like some of its contemporaries have been, I’d argue – to lower its standards in the name of expediency. I’m always slightly put off when entrees arrive in a matter of minutes. Overall, the food is affordable ($8.75 for three enchiladas, $7.95 for three tacos, etc.), plentiful (seriously, look at that combination plate) and delicious. What else could you possibly need?
Hey, I’m on twitter, like all the time. And I’m occasionally funny. @evan_milmag