FOOD- DISH- El Charlottesvillo: The <i>other</i> Mexican place on Greenbrier

A sign above El Rey Del Taco, a Mexican restaurant on Greenbrier Drive, says, "Now Open," but they've been serving up authentico mexicano for two years now, says owner Morena Arebalo.

Arebalo, who has lived in Charlottesville for a decade, worked as hostess, waitress, and manager at various restaurants here and in Richmond before opening Del Taco. At lunch on a Tuesday, the place is so busy that Arebalo barely has time to talk. Considering they're right across the street from grande-sized Guadalajara (the site old-timers still call Barnaby's), you'd think things would be a little tough, but Arebalo says her restaurant is thriving.

For one thing, Guadalajara doesn't have the Cosina Mexicanay Cantina, which opened with the restaurant and operates as a bar/dance hall on Friday and Saturday nights.

"The dancing, the food, the authentic style make it very different from Guadalajara," says Arebalo. 

She also mentions that Del Taco has dishes her neighbor doesn't have, notably tortas, one of Mexico's most popular fast foods. Tortas come in a soft, flute-shaped roll called a bolillo and can be filled with refried black beans, breaded beef, ham, egg, and sausage. Basically, it's a Mexican sandwich that's quickly joining hoagies, subs, and panini as one of America's new favorite to-go foods.

Arebalo also says she's surprised by the mix of people who come to the restaurant/cantina. 

"Mexicans, African Americans, white people– they all enjoy the food and the dancing. Sometimes it's like a party here," she laughs.

Indeed, during the short time Dish spent with Arebalo, who once or twice needed a little translation help from a waiter, we felt transported to a little Mexican corner of Charlottesville. Viva la torta!     

Artini update

If you haven't tried one of the whacky arty martini concoctions available at area restaurants these days, you still have time. As Dish reported, the Second Street Gallery's Absolut Artini contest/fundraiser has challenged restaurants to come up with art-inspired martinis to raise money for the Gallery. 

So far, Bang, Blue Light Grille, Boars Head Bistro 1834, Cassis, Escafé, Fellini's #9, Michael's Bistro, Mono Loco, Oxo, Rapture, Starr Hill, and Zocalo have all signed on and are offering their creations.

For example, why not try the Monet (with an edible flower), the Rothko, the Damien Hirst (with a tiny shark), the Magritte, the Basquiat, the Russell Richards, or the half-dozen other art school drink mixes? (Sorry, no modern art Cliff's Notes available.) 

The whole martini and art soak endeavor culminates at the end of June with a giant party in the Ix building at which the best artini will be crowned. 

The folks at Second Street have also released the names of the judges. They include NBC 29 News Anchor Kristina Cruise, Scarpa and Rock Paper Scissors owner Amy Gardner, C&O bartender Farrell Kelly, Live Arts box office manager Darryl Smith, and jazz singer Dawn Thompson. Let's hope these all-star judges can handle the pressure– and their liquor!

Morena Arebalo, owner of El Rey Del Taco on Greenbrier Drive, says you must try their tortas!