Fish taco at The Ville Taqueria.

Ville Taqueria brings St. Matthews an alternative to pizza

Everyone likes Mexican food, don’t we? But what do we mean when we say “Mexican”?

If our grandparents in Louisville knew Mexican food at all, they probably meant chili con carne, a spicy mix of beans and beef served over spaghetti.

Then in the ’70s came Tumbleweed, with its simple take on Tex-Mex. Por Que No had a brief run with slightly more upscale fare before it gave way to Jack Fry’s. Chico’s in Hikes Point tantalized us with authentic New Mexico cuisine. Chains like Chi-Chi’s soon followed.

But then, starting in the ’90s, a growing Latino population expanded our horizons. Immigrant families grew local chains, Los Aztecas, El Nopalito, El Torasco and El Caporal. Others built tiny taquerias. El Mundo came with chef-driven delights and became a Frankfort Avenue landmark.

A few fine Latino chefs broke into the general restaurant population, like Bruce Ucan’s Mayan Cafe, Anthony Lamas’ Seviche, and Fernando and Cristina Martinez’ Guaca Mole and, more recently, El Taco Luchador. NuLu has its own taqueria, the one-of-a-kind Taco Punk.

And now, the taqueria concept reaches for a new level as chef Fabian Garcia, son of the owners of El Caporal, has opened a lovable, accessible taqueria in the heart of St. Matthews.

The Ville Taqueria, in a small, brightly renovated building that previously housed Carolina Seafood, has been drawing crowds since it opened at the end of July. Not only is it one of the few eateries in the St Matthews zone that stays open late but does not serve pizza; but more important, it offers tasty real-Mexican fare that has ranged from very good to “OMG, this is the best Mexican food I ever ate.”

The menu is simple: Pick your style (taco, burrito,, quesadilla or torta – there are several variations for each); pick your filling (beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, fish or veggie), and, if you wish, add a side. Latino soft drinks are available – even the Cokes are Mexican-made with real cane sugar – and a liquor license is coming soon.

Tacos are built on sturdy white corn tortillas that look homemade. The fish – mahi mahi – was flaky and flavorful, crisp-edged from the grill. Chosen “street taco” style ($4.50), it was purity itself; just the fish with chopped cilantro and onions. You’re expected to spice up your own, though, with Garcia’s remarkable salsas in squeeze bottles. He makes about 10, of which five are usually on display. If the reddish-brown arbol agave miel salsa is available – smooth, gently hot-sweet with arbol chiles and honey – squirt it on. You won’t be sorry, It’s addictive. Scorpion XXXX is also noteworthy for heat-lovers.

A veggie taco (3.50) and a veggie torta Guadalajara style ($7.50) were loaded with a smoky, gently spicy mix of pinto and black beans, corn, mushrooms and grilled poblano peppers. A beef arrachera skirt steak taco ($3.50) was also fine.

Carnitas were great, tender, intensely flavored pork falling into shreds, but next time we might choose a torta rather than the fajita-style quesadilla ($9), which was delicious but heavy with melted cheese and meat and grilled tortilla.

We usually run our bill at the Ville Taqueria up to $20 or more by eating a lot. You can get by for less, but why?

The Ville Taqueria
3922 Westport Road
Robin Garr’s rating: 88 points