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Spiciest Dish in Columbus Series: Cuco’s Taqueria

Our new year’s resolution was to eat more tacos, queso, and guacamole. We don’t aim to fail.

A few weeks ago we were chatting with a friend who is originally from Mexico and we were asking where they preferred when it came to Mexican cuisine. They mentioned Cuco’s Taqueria, so we knew we had to give it a try. With one location on Henderson Rd. we swung by to peep their spicy wares.

This particular night was fairly packed, but we were able to get seated quickly. The menu is expansive and has taqueria style Tacos, fajitas, tortas, large plates and even breakfast. Due to the last flamewar we started on Reddit over whether Condado’s claims of being street tacos is accurate or not we went for an easy play when it came to the spicy dish, but first, the salsa bar!

salsa bar at cucos by fartley farms

Choose your spicy weapon.

This ended up being a bit more artsy of a shot than intended, but as you can see there is a decently-sized salsa bar available to all patrons. Spicy items to try would be the escabeche (second from left) which had a very small kick, the salsa verde which was a tasty green sauce with a hint of jalapeño and the salsa roja. The salsa roja had a pretty good kick and we’d guess it had habaneros in there. The seeds are visible and there’s an initial slap of spice, a tiny linger and then it drifts away.

With several dippers prepared we went with the Trio appetizer as well to get a look at the guacamole, queso, and bean dip.

trio app from cucos by fartley farms

Trio of salsa, trio of dippers, and chiiiiips.

Stirring up all the dips, I had a bit of a panicky moment. The chips were running out, but there were six things to dip into. What’s a spicy lad to do. Get more chips of course. We really liked the bean dip and queso (the Lady of the Farm ended up pouring it onto her meal), but the guac was pretty tomato chunk heavy. Not necessarily a bad thing unless you’re me and don’t enjoy tomatoes, but they’re easy enough to shove off the guac. The table salsa is pretty tasty, but I didn’t sense much of a heat. I went back to the Salsa Roja to make sure my spicy receptors weren’t shot and surely they were not. I asked the Lady of the Farm to try the Salsa Roja and much to my amusement, she coughed a bit and reached immediately for her drink. I’ll give her props, her tolerance is improving.

camerones a la diabla at cucos by fartley farms

Lil shrimpy bois, swimming in a sea of spice.

When sifting through the menu, the item that stuck out most as “spiciest dish” was the Camarones a la Diabla (The Devil’s Shrimp…or Deviled Shrimp…we’ll go with the first one). Shrimp sautéed in a sweet and spicy diabla sauce, served with rice, beans and guacamole salad. When I asked for it I was told “It’s spicy,” so I locked in eye contact, shot back the rest of the Salsa Roja without flinching and said in my best action hero voice, “spicy is my middle name.” Spicy authority proven, the order went in and the above plate came out.

Snuggled together, these lil’ devil bois are covered in a semi-thick sauce with visible herbs, spices and some seeds. I took one of the chips out and tested the sauce. Sweet, with a bit of a habanero kick that lingers momentarily. I chopped off the tail of a shrimp, slathered it further and tried it out. With the right amount of crunch (or is it a pop?), the shrimp were well-cooked and the sauce hits you with the immediate sweetness, almost like a sweet and sour sauce. After two shrimp the heat was building a bit, but the sweetness was overpowering the heat for me. I paused for crustacean identification to see how the sauce was registering.

The linger is the primary piece that makes me think habanero, but the flavor of the sauce is what makes this dish for me. The Lady of the Farm tried it out and sure enough it was a bit spicy to her, forcing her to reach for her drink once again. Where the Salsa Roja gives you an immediate zap of heat, the Camarones a la Diabla waits a moment before revealing it’s spiciness, hidden by the sweetness.

shrimp at cucos by fartley farms

Close-up camarones.

Considering both the Salsa Roja and the Diabla sauce, we’re comfortable putting Cuco’s at a solid #32, just above the Blarney Stone Tavern 911 Wings and below the Amul Lamb Vindaloo. It’s a good date night spicy where it gets those endorphins going, but isn’t going to ruin the rest of your evening. Good for breakup nights too because it will induce enough sniffles that folks won’t question why the person across from you stormed out of the restaurant also sniffling.

The whole presentation is fairly standard, but I enjoyed mixing all of the other items on the plate together to put onto the homemade corn tortillas (not shown) with the shrimp. At most restaurants I’m not a fan of the corn tortillas. I’ve found them to be dry and tasteless, but Cuco’s has restored my faith in the corn tortilla overall. With 3-5 coming with the Camarones a la Diabla, I had a couple at the end (I tend to use chips for scooping everything up). Reaching for the final tortilla, my mind racing with which salsa I was going to dip it into, I made a fatal flaw. Weak from the spiciness, I neglected to lift my hand high enough above my drink and proceeded to spill Diet Coke all over the place. “SALSA DOWN” I screamed, as the Salsa Roja toppled over. Sobbing from the waste of salsa I had caused, I looked at what had now become a Coke-laced river of beans and rice and saw it had also made a new home on my pants, the table, the floor and the booth seat I was in.

Our waitress appeared quickly and was able to get everything cleaned up (as much as reasonably possible). No sooner than she’d arrived a new plate of beans and rice appeared as well. Mind you, I was pretty much done with mine at that time, but that did not matter to them. The Lady of the Farm laughed and laughed as I tried to napkin the salsa off my leg before it burned a whole in my pants, but I am hugely appreciative of the staff at Cuco’s Taqueria. I had already planned on going back again, but their speed and willingness to help out an idiot like me was awesome.

Thanks again to the nice folks at Cuco’s Taqueria! You can find them at 2162 W Henderson Rd Columbus, OH 43220.

Look below for more in our spiciest dish in Columbus series and hit us up if you have any suggestions that are not already on our list!

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(featured image taken from Breakfast With Nick, winter is hard)

 

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