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. Its too crowded.
We made two trips for the review, and got service and food unlike the wonderful stuff wed 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 Years 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 daughters 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
Its 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 werent anything like wed come to expect and hope for.
Its a great building, too. At lunchtime particularly, the Mexican color palette on the walls seems to glow.
Theres some beer choices. Theres even a grocery store next to the restaurant thats always worth the trip.
Its 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 wed expected so this wonderful place doesnt become a victim of its own success.
Tapatio Mexican Restaurant
Address: 600 Vineville St., Fort Valley (Ga. 96)
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
Kids menu: Yes
Noise level: Medium
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Health rating: 100
Price range: Dinners from $5