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Nopalitos, tasty cactus at Reynas in Parkland

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Nov. 16, 2009 at 11:34 am | No Comments »
November 17, 2009 2:32 pm
Tacos al carbon at Reynas in Parkland. The tacos come with nopalitos.
Tacos al carbon at Reynas in Parkland. The tacos come with nopalitos.

I’m continuing my theme of plying myself with comfort eats, of the spicy variety, to rid my head of this horrid congestion. I stopped in at Reynas in Parkland over the weekend for a steaming plate of tacos al carbon with nopalitos ($12.95).

Nopalitos aren’t listed on many menus at South Sound Mexican restaurants. Reynas calls them nopales on their menu, and I’ve seen Mexican restaurants list them as either nopalitos or nopales. Either way, it’s a delicious little dish made from the pads of prickly pear, a cactus. When I find them, I order then. If they’re prepared correctly, with just a bit of snap, they’re unctuous. When overcooked, they take on the texture of slime — much like how okra turns slippery-squishy when it’s left to simmer too long. Click “more” to read about nopalitos at Reynas, a family Mexican restaurant on Garfield next to Pacific Lutheran University.

Reynas prepared its nopalitos with diced tomatoes, onions and peppers. A touch of some kind of chile delivered a light, but lasting lip sting. I appreciated that the cook left some crunch in the nopalitos. A minute overdone and the vegetable turns slimy (as previously mentioned, it trends in the neighborhood of okra-ish).

Whether sick or healthy, tacos al carbon are a favorite dish of mine, and like the nopalitos, it’s a menu item listed on few South Sound menus. Reynas’ tacos al carbon started with grilled sirloin steak that was diced and sauteed with onions and peppers. The mixture came tucked into double stacked corn tortillas and coated with a pepper-punched tomato sauce. Slow-simmered whole beans were served on the side (although I prefer Reynas’ refried beans, they’re salty, but loaded with flavor, I’m sure they use lard at Reynas. My kind of people). The underseasoned rice at Reynas may not impress, but the nopalitos certainly will if you’re a fan of the dish.

Reynas is located in the center of the Parkland/Garfield restaurant district that is adjacent to PLU. The restaurant is small and fits in the “hole in wall” category, but I appreciate that it’s family owned and operated. Service is courteous and fast.

I’ve never tried to prepare nopalitos at home, but I’ve seen the prickly pear cactus, from which nopalitos are made, at local stores that sell ingredients for Mexican food. The last time I was there, El Compadre Market at 4002 McKinley, carried the prickly pear. And also, El Compadre sold frozen banana leaves, which are perfect for wrapping around seasoned pork shoulder for a long, slow braise in a 250 degree oven.

Here is an interesting article about harvesting, cleaning and preparing nopales/nopalitos. It also defines nopales as an ingredient, and nopalitos as a dish.

Here is a wiki entry briefly explaining nopales, or prickly pear.

Reynas Mexican Restaurant
Where: 411 Garfield St. S., Parkland
Phone: 253-538-2368

While on the subject of Mexican food, if you missed our series about Mexican food earlier this year, here is a link to a review of 10 Mexican restaurants in the McKinley neighborhood. We’ll publish another Meals By the Mile series in December. Stay tuned.

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