Original dishes

While La Tapatia persists as Phoenix's quintessential taqueria, nearby Soco's Authentic Mexican Restaurant serves a larger, more diverse menu that strikes a balance between tradition and more mainstream appeal.

For the few Americanized items on offer — fajita taco salad and nachos, for example — Soco's prepares some you'd be hard-pressed to find almost anywhere else locally. "Machaca," dried and spiced beef that is reconstituted and tenderized, sounds like something of an acquired taste. But begging to be tried is the ceviche tostada, marinated, raw seafood on a fried tortilla, and hearty, classic stews that go over particularly well in winter.

Chili verde and chili Colorado are served as full entrees with rice and beans ($8 to $8.25) while the house special menudo, a spicy tripe soup, comes a la carte for $8.50. Green pozole, a meaty soup with hominy kernels, is offered Thursdays for $8. Tortilla soup also has been listed among daily specials.

Among the menu's predictable tacos, burritos, enchiladas and chimichangas are less common huevos rancheros, chilies rellenos, taquitos, tamales and tortas, or meaty sandwiches on a Mexican-style roll. Most items are priced in the $7-to-$8 range with Sunday's special carnitas topping the list at $15.

Playing no small part in its credibility is Soco's hands-on food preparation in a spotless kitchen fully visible from the counter where customers order. Plates don't arrive blazing-hot from a microwave, as they do at so many Mexican eateries. And the application of sauces and cheese is judicious.

Such conscientiousness means meals take a bit longer to materialize than newcomers may expect. Complimentary, housemade chips and salsa make the wait tolerable, however.

Soco's somewhat sparse decor, massive menu boards and use of plastic trays to transport orders from the counter to dining room makes for a decidedly casual, almost cafeteria-like, ambiance.

Recommended: Thick, flavorful tortilla soup packs large chunks of chicken, enough crispy corn-tortilla strips to scoop some up with every bite and a substantial topping of diced avocado; tongue ("lengua") tacos are perhaps the most tender version locally, the portion of filling so generous that two pillowy, corn tortillas almost can't contain it; pork chimichanga is hearty but not greasy under an ubiquitous mound of shredded lettuce, sour cream and guacamole; "sincronizada" layers flour tortillas and fillings into a type of Mexican sandwich.

Alternative diets: Meatless burrito with cheese or filled only with rice or beans; cheese and veggie enchiladas available a la carte or as plates; meatless nachos.

Beverages: Housemade horchata, a sweetened blend of rice and almonds seasoned with cinnamon; self-serve refrigerator case is stocked with bottled Mexican sodas and beers, as well as some domestic brews, single-serving bottles of wine and assorted juices and teas.

Price range: Burritos, $3.50 to $8.75; house specialties, $3.25 to $8.50; plates with rice and beans, $6 to $15; side orders, $1 to $4.

Serving: From 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday.

Info: 102 S. Main St., Phoenix; 541-535-8446.

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