Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Location: 272 Dawsonville Highway, Suite A, Gainesville
More info: 678-696-8084 or www.facebook.com/TaqueriaLaReyna
One wouldn’t expect to find quality handmade pupusas from El Salvador in a restaurant right beside a gas station. But there is such a place.
La Reyna, which in English translates to “The Queen,” is next to the Shell (formerly Texaco) station at 272 Dawsonville Highway, Suite A, in Gainesville.
The restaurant focuses on dishes from Mexico and El Salvador. The Salvadoran dishes range from pupusas to tamales of corn. And the Mexican dishes range from tortas, gorditas and my personal favorite tacos de pastor.
Based on my own taste tests, my opinion of La Reyna is it’s a great place to eat handmade pupusas at the extremely reasonable price of $2 per pop or pupusas.
A pupusa is a common Salvadoran dish made of white corn maize that’s formed into a little bowl by hand. Next, it is stuffed with a variety of ingredients ranging from queso y frijoles (cheese and beans) all the way to pollo y queso (chicken and cheese). Then it is topped with another piece of maize and rolled into a ball. It is pressed by hand to form a disc shape and placed in the stove to cook.
I mostly prefer beans and cheese pupusas with salsa verde and the traditional salsa roja, which contains tomatoes, onions and other ingredients. The common pupusa contains salsa roja and curtido, which is cabbage, onions, carrots and jalapenos cut up and soaked in vinegar.
If you’re not in the mood for Salvadoran food, you can chow down on a favorite Mexican dish of tacos de pastor with handmade tortillas — which costs more but is worth it — or store-bought tortillas. But whichever you choose, it comes with some salsa verde, lime and cilantro sprinkled on top.
If you don’t believe me, just ask regular customer Bob Holan.
“Best tacos al pastor in all my life,” he said.
Pastor is pork seasoned with chilli guayen, some vinegar and whole bunch of other ingredients to give it a great flavor.
For a real treat, stop by the place between Friday and Sunday to taste the various soups.
One in particular is Mondongo, which is cooked cow intestine with corn, yucca, carrots and chayote with handmade tortillas. Then Caldo de Res (beef soup) is made with corn, chayote, cabbage, squash and rice. Finally, 7 Mares (7 seas) is made of shrimp, mixed seafood, squash, chayote, carrots and chili guayen.
To quench the thirst of the fresh foods, one could simply settle for Coca-Cola or Sprite. But La Reyna offers a nice little surprise — Aguas Frescas, which translates to fresh waters. The waters contain the passion fruit Maracuya; Mango; my favorite horchata salvadorena, different from its Mexican relative; and lastly Tamarindo.
Any one of these goes great with the food.
All of the recipes come from the mind of owner and chef Reina Colindres.
“Salvadoran (dishes) I know through my mom,” the 55-year-old Gainesville woman said. “When I bought a Mexican restaurant, they left me the cook and I learned from her.”
Originally from El Salvador, Colindres moved from her home country to Houston, Texas, in 1979. Then, she moved to Georgia in 1985 and has been here ever since. She opened La Reyna at 272 Dawsonville Highway in January 2015. She has previously owned two other restaurants: El Sol and La Flor De Jalisco No. 2 on Atlanta Highway in Gainesville.
“I sold the restaurants,” Colindres said. “It was too expensive with the bills and the rent. The money came and left.”
Then, she took time off and relaxed from the hectic life of running a restaurant. But she wasn’t out of the food business completely.
“A lot of people said, ‘Where have you been? We missed you,’” she said. “So, I thought I’d open it again.”
Colindres runs the place with three employees: her waitress, Haidee Rodriguez of El Salvador; and her two cooks, Maria Zabala of El Salvador and Rosy Dominguez of Guatemala. But Colindres hopes to add one more cook to serve Salvadoran breakfasts, including huevos divorciados (divorced eggs), which is two sunny side up eggs with one smothered in green salsa and the other red salsa accompanied with beans, rice and tortillas.
In the meantime, the quartet of women run the restaurant from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
The trio serves newcomers and regulars alike, greeting customers as they enter and remembering the orders of regulars. Jeff Jones, who’s been stopping by the restaurant for four months, said there is nothing not to like at La Reyna.
“Everything is always fresh and very consistent,” he said. “I’ve never had a bad taco.”
So if you are near Gainesville High School, take a second and check out La Reyna’s handmade pupusas, juicy tacos and an ice cold agua de Horchata.
Charles Olsen is an intern at The Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.