Choosing a Mexican restaurant can often be a bewildering experience when you find yourself in an area that seems to be entirely saturated with them. I mean, who knows if “Casa del Sol” is any better than “Casa de Luna” around the corner. You certainly can’t judge an establishment by its exterior, and never let a few bars on the windows deter you from taking a seat inside. But the options can seem endless and often, the adventurous, random experimentations can end in disappointment or worse, a few days worth of regretful gastrointestinal distress. My recent trip to Taqueria Karina certainly didn’t end in complete remorse but it certainly points to some room for improvement.
The menu at Karina is large, and offers nearly every Mexican staple from tacos and enchiladas to cerviche and menudo. Proteins similarly range from the more familiar chicken and beef to tripe and lengua. I opted for the day’s special, gorditas with your choice of filling, and a side of tacos a la carte for good measure.
The complementary chips and salsa arrived first, as expected. The salsa is a stewed blend of tomatoes, peppers, and onion and arrives hot (near scalding) to the table. It’s a refreshing change, but lacked any real spicy notes and failed to really wake up the palate. The chips are no better than a bag you might pull off the shelf of your local grocer, perhaps worse.
Now, I’m no linguist by any means, but I did pass two years of high school Spanish, and I’m pretty certain a “gordita” is supposed to be “fat” or “thick.” Not so with Karina’s version. They somehow manage to split an already thin corn tortilla into 2 ultra-thin sections and stuff it full. Not what I expected, and not much different than a standard taco folded in half. The cornmeal itself is a little bland and falls apart quickly under the weight and moisture of stewed meats. My choices of pork carnitas and carne asada were flavorful however. The pork was a nice salty shredded mixture, and the asada was tender without any annoying gristle to battle with. The al pastor tacos are filled with a spicy, red blend of pork and peppers, also decent but mostly overwhelmed by marinade, lacking some needed richness. The rice and beans were perhaps the biggest problems with the meal. The refried beans were thin and tasteless while the rice was dry and could have easily been left over from the day before.
In all, Taqueria Karina is a fairly decent option if you are in the neighborhood, but I get the sense that there is better in its proximity. There is some room for improvement, and a few tweaks would probably earn a return visit from me, but not for a while, I think.
5309 W 65th St.
Little Rock, AR