BelAir Cantina – Downer – 2625 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open 11am every day until later than you should be eating tacos.

BelAir Cantina is a small, local chain of meeting places for younger people who like Mexican food and drinking and don't mind a noisy, busy dining environment. I tried to visit a $2 Taco Tuesday night at their Humboldt/Milwaukee River location, but it was so crowded I decided better of it, and waited until a calm weekday lunchtime to visit this, the Downer Ave. location in my (thus far) favorite Milwaukee neighborhood. The menu suffers from that family restaurant syndrome that wants to have food for everyone, so you wonder if any of it is well-represented. Not that extreme, of course, but there is too much on the menu. I was in the mood for soup, so I enjoyed the Hominy Shrimp Soup, even though the ingredients didn't come together, really, until they got into my stomach. It was okay. After that I tried a $4 Al Pastor taco, which was also fine, but I inhaled it. See, that comes to over ten dollars, and I was still hungry. (Okay, I eat too much, and I'm getting paid for this, but still...) The inexpensive way to go here is on $2 taco night, because if you get three, you get rice and beans, and that's a meal. But only SOME of the tacos are eligible for the $2 night. Then there's the crowds (which you may be into—good for you!)

A regular at BelAir could enjoy exploring the extensive menu, over time, but for a one-time visitor it would be nice to be able to figure out what they do best and what to avoid, and it's a guessing game. Say you just narrow it down to tacos; there are 25 tacos on the menu, and if you aren't hungry when you arrive, you will be after reading the descriptions of the overly-busy varieties. If you are one to pay attention to prices, good luck, because the various taco prices are as follows: $3.57, $2.94, $2.89, $3.55, $4.45—okay, I'm not going to list all 25, you get the picture. I guess it's meant to be a joke?—or some kind of reference I don't get? Sorry, I was born before 1990. Some of the tacos are reasonable: meat, onions, cilantro—while others are a bit ridiculous. I mean, it would be fun to try them all, and if I found a busy taco that really worked, I'd be the first to admit it. But generally, a taco should fit within a folded tortilla or two and not fall apart before you can get it into your mouth. The Dick Skiller (admittedly gringo from upstate) rule is that if there are five ingredients in a taco, the fifth should be my teeth. Four is okay when the fourth is lime juice. Generally, three is optimal. Cheaper, less filled tacos over more expensive bloated ones. Cheese only belongs on a taco if your name is Taco Bell. Shredded iceberg lettuce is reserved for grade schools, prison cafeterias, and Hell.

Richard Skiller 3.18.18