I was craving Mexican recently and looking for something authentic. Finding Mexican is Des Moines is a piece of cake, there is practically a restaurant on every corner. The difficulty is finding a place that isn't a carbon copy of every other place but with a different name. Tacos Marianas is not one of those places!
The location is a bit of a pain in the butt to find; it is in a small building shared with a neighborhood grocery store on the north side of University Ave. I pulled into the parking lot at about 1:30pm on a Saturday. The lot was full so I ended up parking in an empty lot on the west side of the building. Once inside, the decor is fairly standard for a Mexican restaurant with bright colors and a few sombreros hanging on the walls. There is seating for about 30 people in a mix of booths, 4-person tables, 2-person high-top tables, and a few seats at a bar looking into the kitchen. The only seating available were two high-top tables, which wasn't a problem since I was there on my own. Looking around, I took it as a good sign that the majority of customers were Latino.
The menu is fairly extensive but I was there for tacos so that's what I focused on. There were 10 or 11 different kinds, including unusual items like tongue and various organ meats. I tried all of the non-organ meats but other than the chicken I'm not sure which was which since the server (Mariana's son) didn't explain each one. Most of them were excellent and none were a disappointment. In addition to the tacos, I also ordered refried beans and rice. The beans were excellent! Homemade and definitely not the standard gray mush you get at most Mexican places. The rice was flavored with a little cilantro and was also homemade. I happily cleaned my plate!
Two little things to mention. First, they don't have a soda fountain, so all drinks are by the bottle/can. That's a little unusual and something I wish would be changed.
The other thing is the tortillas. I was really hoping for homemade tortillas but these appeared to be store-bought (uniform size, coloring from cooking, and also that they were doubled-up). The flavor was good, so they didn't detract from the meal at all but I was expecting homemade. I don't know whether Mariana's offers homemade tortillas. I mentioned this to a Mexican friend of mine and they gave me some "insider" tips regarding tortillas. A lot of authentic Mexican restaurants will serve store-bought *and* homemade tortillas; to get the homemade ones you usually have to request them, otherwise you get store-bought. Also, store-bought are often doubled-up because they are thinner and more prone to splitting. Homemade are served one per taco.
If you want excellent Mexican food, Mariana's is the place to go! Prices are similar to or even less expensive than the cookie-cutter places around town but the quality of food is far superior. Service was friendly, though a little slow due to nearly all tables being occupied. The food came out hot, fresh, and delicious. I will be returning for tacos again in the very near future.
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