Tapatio struggles with its own success

mstucka@macon.comJanuary 6, 2012 

For a couple of years now, Tapatio Mexican Restaurant in Fort Valley has been a good friend to my family, with great food, solid service and reasonable prices. When the time came to do another review on Tapatio, though, I was reminded of a Yogi Berra quote: “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

We made two trips for the review, and got service and food unlike the wonderful stuff we’d always experienced before. One night we tried to survive on overly greasy chips before the food arrived, late. We ran out of drinks to compensate for the salsa.

On another visit, the food was fine but the service largely disappeared when crowds of people arrived unexpectedly about 7:30 p.m. on the Thursday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Such a crush of customers seems to overwhelm the servers and kitchen at Tapatio, resulting in lower quality. But because one of our meals was delivered just before the restaurant got overwhelmed, we got to experience the wonderful food that we missed. We just had trouble getting a spoon, and we ourselves scavenged the restaurant for a bottle of hot sauce.

But we loved the food on that visit, including molcajete ($16 for steak, chicken and shrimp), with sausage and vegetables that included tender grilled cactus that was done just right. My daughter’s quesadilla and rice ($3.50) included a hefty dose of the cheese she loves.

On that visit my wife also got a decent “crazy burrito,” though a queso and beef dip could have been a little warmer.

On the other review visit, though, we were part of a rush of customers. Greasy chips, no drink refills and food that never got past the “meh” stage

It’s hard to argue with some of the prices -- chicken fajitas for $9, or enough for two people for $14 -- but the food and the service weren’t anything like we’d come to expect and hope for.

It’s a great building, too. At lunchtime particularly, the Mexican color palette on the walls seems to glow.

There’s some beer choices. There’s even a grocery store next to the restaurant that’s always worth the trip.

It’s clear Tapatio has a strong following, and one that may be getting stronger. We also saw lots of impromptu reunions of friends in the restaurant.

We hope the food and service can return to the levels we’d expected so this wonderful place doesn’t become a victim of its own success.

Tapatio Mexican Restaurant

Address: 600 Vineville St., Fort Valley (Ga. 96)

Phone: 827-0250

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sundays

Smoking: No

Alcohol: Yes

Kids menu: Yes

Noise level: Medium

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Health rating: 100

Price range: Dinners from $5

2.5 stars

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