So many Mexican restaurants have sprung up on Macon Road that it's giving Summer Avenue a run for the money. I recently met a friend for lunch at Caminos de Michoachan and spied her parked about 100 feet from me, waiting in front of another restaurant. We both stepped back and looked at the signs to double-check before we walked in the right place, and were immediately enveloped by the sweet aroma of baking pastry and consumed with carnivorous lust from the smell of grilling meat.
I was at odds, feeling both comforted and primal. But as I indulged heartily, I was back in balance before I left.
The salsa verde served with the chips is a particularly tasty version, bursting with not just heat but also the big flavors of cilantro and garlic. It's got a bite, but it is the perfect foil to the creamy guacamole.
There are two basic good guacamole salads (and several bad ones): One is chunky pieces of avocado dressed with lime juice and tossed with onion, tomato, cilantro and peppers. It's sprightly and refreshing. The second contains the same fresh ingredients, but the avocado is first mashed until creamy. This one, lush and soft, is the one Caminos de Michoachan serves. It's excellent, and so generously served that we didn't finish it.
All of the basics are covered: tortas (served on big pillows of bread baked in-house), sopes, gorditas, enchiladas, burritos and so on. All of these (except possibly the burrito, which I didn't try) are exemplary examples of what we've come to think of as authentic Mexican around here. The chilaquiles, tortillas simmered in salsa (verde for me) and served with eggs on top, are a cut above any others. The sauce truly permeates the tortillas, which are served on the dry side instead of swimming in sauce.
Mary and Leo Perez owned a Mexican restaurant in Chicago and moved to Memphis about five years ago to run Taqueria Guadalupana, now owned by Leo's relatives. The Perezes opened Caminos de Michoachan in Raleigh but moved to the Macon Road location in 2008 and combined the taqueria with the panaderia -- the bakery.
Dozens of pastries line one wall. Empanadas filled with dulce le leche, Bavarian cream or fruit; cookies; doughnuts; several varieties of puff pastries, some topped with cinnamon and sugar and some filled; conchas (sweet bread with sugared tops); and the savory desayuno. The latter is a small loaf of soft bread with cream cheese and jalapeno peppers baked inside. For breakfast, the loaves are split and toasted with beans, ham and additional cheese -- and it's $1.50.
Of all the dishes, and we tried quite a few over three visits, the shrimp in garlic sauce is the one I'll find myself craving frequently. It's a simple creation, and not oily like so many versions. Cloves of garlic are sliced and quickly sauteed with medium-sized, yet plump and flavorful, shrimp. They're served on a bed of rice, nestled between refried beans and a simple salad of lettuce, tomato and avocado.
The tacos bear special mention, too. They're served on corn tortillas with your choice of meat (steak, pork, chicken, chorizo or tongue) and topped with diced onion, radish and cilantro. A grilled green onion and on request, grilled jalapeno peppers are served alongside. Two of them will set you back about $4. Combine cheap and good, and it equals muy bueno.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Caminos de Michoachan
Address: 3896 Macon Road
Telephone: (901) 458-5550
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
Reviewer's choices: Tacos ($1.80-$2); shrimp in garlic sauce ($9.50); tortas ($5); chilaquiles ($7); desayuno ($1 or $1.50 with beans, ham and cheese).
Alcohol: No alcohol
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars