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It's Colosso, not colossal; still, tacos are no big deal

TOWN OF NIAGARA -- When is a taco like a prized athlete? Why, when it possesses those qualities most desired by general managers, of course -- the notorious three S's: size, strength and spunk.

Now, many of you budding GM's out there probably thought the third "S" was going to be speed, but how do you equate "speed" to a taco (aside from maybe, the speed with which it induces a restroom break -- or perhaps the urgency with which it is consummated -- but those are neither here nor there).  Let's leave this in the culinary vernacular, then, and stick with "spunk."

To review: A good taco should be big, of course; hence the saying, "the bigger, the better." It should be strong of flavor, with tasty interplay between meat and veggies bearing distinct southwestern overtones. And it should possess spunk: a certain bite, a finishing kick, if you will.

Call it what you will: the finishing touch, killer instinct. It's Aaron Judge (big), Arnold Schwarzenegger (strong) and Mike Tyson (bite), all rolled into one, compliments of a nice, soft tortilla shell folded neatly at the corners.

When I was younger, you could count on getting that complete package at Colosso Taco on Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls. Granted, the place wasn't anything to look at -- but then, you don't eat the walls, do you? As long as the food is good, you can overlook whatever aesthetic shortcomings the place may have. Anyway, that's why they invented takeout, isn't it?

Colosso's tacos were thick, meaty handfuls with globs of gooey cheese, ample amounts of flavorful meats and nice, fresh tomatoes and lettuce. And they didn't skimp on the sauce. If you ordered hot, you better have ordered a drink to go along with it, because you'd be needing it.

Whatever happened to those tacos? With a spiffy new location recently added at the corner of Porter and Packard roads, one might think that Colosso would be desperate to impress by introducing those tasty values of old to the suburbs.

Not.

The three S's at the new Colosso seem to be slow, small and sauce-less. We were all disappointed after an unimpressive first visit, but we gave it another shot, chalking the first up to "opening pains." We gave things a little time to settle down, returned and tried a few different things.

Same result. The service was slow, the products were small, and -- despite routinely ordering our food be prepared "hot" -- we have yet to discern much evidence of any sauce having been commited to the mix. Spicy? Hardly. More like spice-less.

The meat, bean and cheese burrito (large, $3.99), for instance, seemed to be stuck on "bean." Now, I don't mind refried beans as a flavor enhancer in my tacos, but I don't want it to be the sole flavor source. Twice I have ordered them, and twice been discouraged to experience a scorched-bean flavor reminiscent of re-, re-, re-refried beans, with precious little cheese and meat with the flavor of meat -- and nothing else. Where is the chili powder, et al?

It didn't seem any more "authentic" Mexican than a Sears poncho, if you get my FZ reference.

Each time, I was left wondering whether they had heard me when I asked for "hot" sauce. Maybe they had heard "hold" the sauce; I don't know, but it sure seemed to be the case.

After a disappointing Colosso taco (her old stand-by order), my wife decided to go completely in the other direction on our last visit, and sampled the "subs" portion of the title. Her small steak sub ($4.69) was not just small, but tiny, and unimpressive, taste-wise. Again, the meat seemed to have picked up some sort of after-taste from the grill that was not at all appealing. It was, simply, bland.

Lest I seem like a total buzzkill, there are some things we still enjoy at Colosso: the cheese crisps, for example ($2.49). Consisting of a flat tortilla deep-fried and topped with melted cheese and sauce (we generally get ours with banana peppers added), they're a tasty little treat, although you'd need three or four to have a full meal. That's because it seems that they, too, have grown smaller over the years.

Our favorite Colosso  offering is  the apple taco (tacos, mind you, not roll-ups; they're hard to find on the menu, especially online, but worth the extra effort). Talk about simple, it's basically a tortilla shell filled with apple pie filling and what appears to be mozzarella cheese. Might not sound appetizing, but the mix of tastes is awesome. Warm or cold, it's good either way -- but probably a tad better when the cheese is freshly melted.

Again, though, the last one I ate (a "large," no less) was barely thicker than the four dollar bills it cost me. Really, can you spare it?

The new Colosso is a far more inviting place, space-wise, than the original, with several tables situated in a long, open layout. The former doughnut joint is clean and well-maintained.

Despite boasting of an "expanded menu," however, there really isn't much "new" on the menu that we noticed. The things that aren't there are much more obvious. For instance, it always amazes me when "Mexican" joints fail to offer enchiladas. They're simple enough to make, difficult to screw up and they can't be any more cost-prohibitive than a good burrito. It's just meat, cheese and shell, with a little sauce sprinkled over top. Why is it so difficult to find a place that offers that?

And what about tamales? Again, how do you consider your cuisine to be "authentic" without offering one of the basic staples of the diet? And again, how difficult are tamales to make?

Instead, we get things like boneless wings. How in the wide, wide world of sports does that qualify as Mexican?

I get it, just because it's a "Mexican" restaurant doesn't mean everything on the menu needs to be Mexican. But is it too much to expect the basics, like some good, fresh, house-made salsa?

Once upon a time, when hankering for Mexican, we would never have chosen one of the "chain" places over Colosso, but that mindset has changed over the years, as the Colosso product seemed to sink in both size and quality. Judging from others I've spoken to, and comments seen online, we are not alone in that opinion. That's a shame, especially when considering the new location offers a perfect opportunity to turn things around. Still hoping that will happen.

 

restrevu,10p2 Colosso Taco and Subs
7101 Packard Road, Town of Niagara
(371-0297)
2 stars
(Out of four)
Favorite dish: Apple taco
Needs work: The taco seasoning
Healthy choice: Veggie taco?
Price range: Moderate
Service: Slow
Noise level: Fine
Wheelchair access: Yes
Parking: Connected lot
Kid appeal: Plenty
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Hours: Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday  and Saturday, 11  a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, closed. www.colossotaco.com
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