Tacos de Birria and chips with guacamole at Tacos La Poblanita in Westbrook. The restaurant also a location at the Maine Mall. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The next time I visit Tacos La Poblanita’s new brick-and-mortar space in Westbrook, I’m borrowing my designer-friend’s handheld Pantone CAPSURE color-identifier. I need to know the exact shade of that eye-popping interior paint. Somewhere between Pantone “Blazing Yellow” and “TCX Vibrant Yellow,” the dining room crackles and arcs in a hue so intense, it’s like a quad-shot latte for your eyeballs. And on a glum winter evening, it feels like a warm hug. It’s a lot, and I can’t help but love it.

Chef/co-owner Karina Contreras and her husband Jaime Rodriguez opened their first “La Poblanita”–branded local business, a food truck, in 2019. It was an immediate success, with scheduled appearances at local breweries that would sell out their entire inventory of “burritos, quesadillas and mas!” days, sometimes weeks before they found a parking space for their boxy white (now red) van.

Three years later, as pandemic-precautions waned, they debuted a food-court version of the truck inside the Maine Mall, and then in February of last year, a copy-pasted counter-service clone of the mall restaurant in the former Doughboy’s Deli space in Westbrook.

“Right now, there are not a lot of significant changes (in the new brick-and-mortar space). We want a kind of relaxed atmosphere where our customers can come to enjoy our food, and we are open year-round,” Rodriguez said. “Our dream has always been to have one or two restaurants, and the big difference between the food truck, the mall and the Westbrook location is that we have added alcoholic beverages. The menu is practically the same.”

If that sounds like a tiny difference to you, perhaps you’ve never imagined the possibility of enjoying a spicy, malty Michelada ($12) – a beer-based cocktail made with tomato juice, chile and a hefty squirt of lime – alongside a plate of first-rate enchiladas verdes ($14.25) filled with tender shredded chicken breast, avocado and queso fresco. Now that it’s more than theoretical, get planning. Maybe add a potent, salt-rimmed margarita ($12) in there, too. Just double-check the restaurant’s website to make certain they’re open; I ran into mixed-messaging on this front a few times last month.

Rob Pisacreta reads the menu at Tacos La Poblanita, which is a counter-service restaurant. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

I also encountered inconsistencies on the menu, where homemade tres leches cake ($6) and flan ($5.50) are both listed, but neither was available when I visited. “No, no desserts tonight,” the staffer at the counter informed me. When I asked if desserts were often 86’d, he just shrugged, then input my order incorrectly…twice.


Elsewhere, I found cooking at Tacos La Poblanita to be hit-or-miss, ranging from excellent, as with the aforementioned jalapeno-spiced enchiladas verdes, to underwhelming.

That differential was most apparent across the spectrum of double corn-tortilla-wrapped soft tacos (most $15 for three, or $5.50 each). The adobo-spiced pork shoulder with pineapple (al pastor) taco looked appealing, with onion and chopped radish strewn across the slow-stewed meat, but it was chewy and surprisingly, a little bland. Acid would have helped, but that night, lime wedges seemed to be held up elsewhere along with the flan. The citrusy, cumin-scented pollo asado taco was better, especially drizzled with thin, house-made tomato-and-dried-chile-based red salsa, but again, the meat was tough.

On the other hand, the signature birria taco ($5.50) featured shreds of beef that had been cooked beautifully – slow-simmered in a garlicky, crimson consommé – bundled by the generous spoonful into corn tortillas that had been dip-dyed in the broth before a drying sear on the flattop. What a view, I thought as I admired the red tacos and the plastic cup of extra consommé served on the side. But I couldn’t eat more than a few bites; both meat and broth were oily, and the flavors a dull drone of salt and smoke.

Grease was a minor issue in the quesadillas ($13.25) as well, but here, flour tortillas bookending the melted cheese absorbed most of the excess. I also took the counter staffer’s suggestion and added terrific, pulled-pork carnitas ($3.25) to the mix. Here, cumin and brightness from the orange juice used to stew the pork offered exactly the lift that such a heavy dish requires.

Best of the bunch was a single shrimp taco (listed on the menu as $6 for two), lavishly doused in a fantastic spicy, chipotle-pepper mayonnaise and filled to overflowing with delicate deep-fried shrimp and homemade pickles (encurtidos). These were so tasty, I can picture a thriving, remixed Tacos La Poblanita that focuses exclusively on fried-shrimp tacos.

Seafood is obviously not in keeping with the restaurant’s nominal theme of dishes from the landlocked Puebla area of Mexico. But right now, very little on the menu is truly “poblanita.” When I spoke with him, Rodriguez told me that the restaurant will offer more region-specific specials like mole poblano and chiles rellenos in the future. I expect that running three kitchens in the warm months and two in the cold is at least partly to blame for the disconnect between the ambitions implied by the restaurant’s name and its menu of Mexican-American cuisine’s greatest hits.


Despite its blemishes, Tacos La Poblanita is OK by me. Too nice, you say? I challenge you to visit the revivifying, seasonal-affective-disorder-annihilating yellow dining room and not feel the tiniest spark of summer joy. But more to the point: Any restaurant that can deliver a spicy fried-shrimp taco, a well-mixed Michelada and appealing, onion-forward guacamole with fresh-from-the-fryer tortilla chips ($4.25 guacamole, $2.50 chips) deserves a little latitude.

Outside Tacos La Poblanita in Westbrook. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 57 Bridge St., Westbrook. 207-591-0307. facebook.com/tacoslapoblanitamaine

SERVING: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

PRICE RANGE: Tacos: $3-5.50, Large plates: $9.75-14.25

NOISE LEVEL: Unmellow yellow


VEGETARIAN: Some dishes


BAR: Beer, wine, and cocktails


BOTTOM LINE: If you know about Tacos La Poblanita from its popular food truck or its mall-side storefront, you’re already familiar with the menu at owners Karina Contreras and Jaime Rodriguez’s Westbrook restaurant. What’s new in this welcoming, if slightly garish, lemon-toned space is a selection of adult beverages like excellent beer-based Micheladas and robust margaritas. Food runs the gamut from slightly disappointing (tacos de birria and al pastor) to impressive – green-salsa-topped enchiladas verdes with tender shredded chicken, delightfully dense and oniony guacamole, and fried shrimp tacos drizzled with chipotle mayo, in particular.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):


* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of seven recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: andrewross.maine@gmail.com
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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