Two-year-old La Torre lives on Washtenaw Avenue in Ypsilanti’s College Heights neighborhood. Flanked by a check-cashing establishment and a Lover’s Lane, La Torre’s interchangeable-letter signage suggests a low-budget authenticity often poorly copied by restaurants in larger markets promoted by decorated hospitality groups with ample public relations budgets. This understated aesthetic juxtaposes the heat roiling inside this taqueria’s glass storefront.
With its yellow-painted interior arrayed with a few unfussy tables and chairs, it’s the space’s sonic backdrop, comprised of the exposed griddle’s sizzle, clattering metallic spatulas and Norteño trumpet music, that sets the tone for an unpretentious-yet-piquant meal.
The flashlight-sized Queso Tamales ($1.25) are comprised of finely ground cornmeal masa encasing pickled jalapenos and onions. Even without the picante red sauce, the tamales’ Scoville rating is enough to bead foreheads with a perspiratory sheen.
Served on fluffy El Milagro corn tortillas, conspicuously stacked on a table behind the cash register, the succulent medley of Carnitas, Pastor, and Asada Tacos ($1.79/ea.) topped with cilantro and onions kick with equal flavor intensity.
Entreés with technicolor flavor
The Camarones a Las Diablas plate ($15.99), prepared ‘spicy’ at my dining companions’ request, features a landscape of burnt-orange chopped shrimp and gold rice bordering a small reservoir of brown beans. Presented with a side of foil-wrapped corn tortillas for taco-concocting, the shrimp boast a bright chili edge and a texture akin to expertly prepared sea scallops, supple and fresh.
The smooth-sipping Agua de Horchata ($2.19), served neat in a 24 oz. lidded styrofoam tub, sang with cinnamon and subtly starchy vanilla rice water. Rest assured this mildly sweet beverage will promptly conclude any lingering palate heat from the salsa roja.
Though a near hit for a sub-six-dollar sandwich, the Torta Carne Asada ($5.29) with its layers of fresh avocado, lettuce, pickled jalapeño and minced steak assembled inside a fresh, tan-crusted roll, was delivered slightly on the tepid side, its unprocessed ingredients fresh enough to make that slight tepidness ultimately forgivable.
With a consistent parade of both dine-in customers and takeaway orders, La Torre’s soul breathes as a low-key purveyor of uplifting dishes that counteract winter’s early onset darkness. Expect a no-frills excuse to shed your jacket and pant in spicy ecstasy. Disfruta el calor.
1525 Washtenaw Ave, Ypsilanti.