A&E

Made-to-order Mexican

Los Altos Taqueria's fresh, tasty offerings hold up amidst stiff competition in Mountain View

Los Altos Taqueria has always been in Mountain View. Did the owners want it to be in Los Altos? Not at all. They had two reasons, neither of which is an illusion of grandeur nor the need to hitch up with a Spanish surname.

The owners, brothers Armando and Ruben Ruiz, come from Los Altos de Jalisco, the eastern part of that Mexican state. The strip-mall taqueria recalls the Los Altos of their childhood. And, says Armando, "It is very close to Los Altos."

It's a tad closer to Palo Alto, but never mind. For 17 years Los Altos Taqueria has quietly and efficiently defended its corner of the golden triangle of taquerias at Old Middlefield Way and Rengstorff Avenue with La Bamba and La Costena (which is soon to move).

The food is fast and nourishing. The friendly counter woman flips smoothly between "Hola!" and "Hi. Can I help you?" Much of the clientele at lunch comes from the nearby businesses. If you need a car repair or kitchen remodeling, you could easily assemble a crew in here.

"How would you like your eggs?" she asks, about an order of huevos rancheros ($6.25). How often does that happen? The plate overflows with eggs topped with grilled onions and peppers. Shredded lettuce, beans, rice and steaming corn tortillas accompany.

Taqueria Los Altos pays attention to breakfast, opening every day at 8:30 a.m. Other eye-openers include eggs with Mexican sausage, ham and eggs, and chilaquiles. Fresh-squeezed orange juice is $3.50 for the 16-ounce "small" size.

Where some places use warming trays, Taqueria Los Altos cooks to order. Chips are fried in-house. Salsa is not up-to-the-minute salsa fresca, just tomato sauce, onions and a little cilantro, but it's sloppily addictive on warm chips that so recently were tortillas. They are served when you sit down, or with your takeout bag. No extra charge.

At the inside end of a strip mall with plenty of parking, Taqueria Los Altos is colorfully draped in faux brick tiles, bright yellow tabletops and blue-seated chairs.

Tabletops are cleared immediately. No sitting down to dribbles of juice from the previous customer's salsa.

Burritos, from $5.79 to the most expensive Super Burrito Wet ($7.25), are enormous. As a plumbing-supply guy said to his colleague: "You know what, Joe, we should've split one."

There are vegetarian versions, but the focus is on meat. Ten choices for burritos, tacos and quesadillas cover the usual chickens (barbecued and grilled), pork (green chile, fried, barbecued), beef, tripe and tongue. The carnitas were crispy bits and the lengua was the opposite: tender, juicy chunks. Both were just right.

The rice is fluffy and flavorful, not just filling. Ask for whole pintos, black beans or refried.

Maybe start with an excellent shrimp ceviche tostada ($2.99), with a crisp tortilla standing up to lots of baby shrimp seasoned with fresh onions and a touch of cilantro.

The sandwich we tried, a chicken torta ($5.49), was less successful. The bread was toasted, but the shredded chicken got lost in melted cheese and wilted lettuce.

Other items include a kid-size burrito ($3.49), breakfast burrito ($5.52) and on weekends, menudo (tripe soup).

A recent $6.99 dinner combination contained an enchilada, a chile relleno, rice, beans, lettuce and tomato -- or the same accompaniments with two tacos, one hard, one soft.

Los Altos Taqueria

2105 Old Middlefield Way, Mountain View

650-965-7236

losaltostaqueria.org

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.

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