Saturday, September 17, 2011

La Perla Tapatia

(NOTE: Please also read part 2 of La Perla, which I posted in July 2012. I really hope the lackluster service I received is no longer a problem -- or was just an anomaly.)

La Perla Tapatia is a Mexican restaurant located in the Reed Opera House in downtown Salem, Oregon.

I had a bit of a craving for Mexican food and felt a little snack was in order. I have lived in Salem for over four years and never been here, so I figured...why not? The restaurant is actually on the mezzanine level of the building.

Menu posted just outside the opera house
La Perla has a lounge feel to it; I felt the place was a bit dark and not very inviting. One of the workers was mopping the floor and basically told me to sit anywhere. I picked a small dining table just across from the cash register (where another woman was filling a phone order). After that woman finished the phone order, she quickly disappeared to the back. It must have been at least five minutes before anyone even bothered to give me a menu.

Once I did get the menu -- and a complementary basket of salsa and chips -- the server came back within 20 seconds to ask if I was ready. Obviously, I wasn't...I had just gotten the dang menu! Ultimately, she did come back to take my order. I ordered two of their 99-cent tacos: one asada (steak) and one pastor (marinated pork). Each taco came with my "choice of meat, cilantro, onion, and salsa on two fresh corn tortillas" (they probably use two so it's easier to pick up and eat).

Free salsa and chips
Tacos (pastor on the left, asada on the right)
I overheard a conversation between a lovely couple and the cashier, asking if the tortillas were homemade. The cashier responded with a "no," saying La Perla gets their tortillas from a local distributor. No wonder they can sell tacos for cheap. It certainly didn't stop one person from ordering 60 tacos (probably getting food for the entire staff at his office).

The fresh-tasting salsa also looks very appealing with the diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, etc., but probably could use a bit more salt. Not sure if they bother to make their own chips, or if that's just from a big bulk bag that Costco would carry.

(EDITED 9/20/11: According to Kristen, the owner/manager of La Perla, their chips are homemade. Kristen and her staff recently took over ownership (June 2011) and have graciously been accepting constructive feedback. Thank you for this information!)

The chopped-up asada and pastor had good flavor, but I wish I had more of it on my tacos. The onions and cilantro were fresh, but overall, the snack I had lacked the "wow" factor. I guess the meal really did fit the price I paid. The meal was good, just not great. At least it was worth the $2 I paid. Subpar service.

Despite being peak lunch hour, La Perla suffers a similar fate as Macedonia: they're located inside an opera house, with only one sign on Court St. to attract any customers. La Perla has a fairly simple menu that tailors to the college student (cheap prices), but frankly, other than it being very affordable, I don't think people are missing much here.

EDITED 9/20/11: Kristen at La Perla has also informed me that they are doing a "20/20" challenge at La Perla. If you can eat 20 of their tacos in 20 minutes (or less), the meal is free. As of 9/20/11, no one has finished the challenge. Can you eat 20 of their tacos?

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