There is no Juan Belmonte, Jose Ortega or Juan Jose Padilla behind West Ashley’s latest taco spot.
3 Matadors Tequileria
Category: Neighborhood Favorite
Address: 2447 Ashley River Road, West Ashley
Bar: Full-service bar, expansive tequila menu, daily happy hour 4-7 p.m.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday
Costs: Appetizers $4.95-$9.95; salads $8.95-$9.95; soups $3.95; sides $1-$3.95; fajitas $8.95-$10.95; burritos or bowls $8.50, tacos $3.25-$4.25; desserts are in progress
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: Facebook, live music, outdoor deck dining and entertainment, happy hour, carry-out, daily specials, Taco Tuesdays
No, the 3 Matadors, Doug Allison, Travis Glen and Jason Marques, opened their taco and tequila-inspired spot just in time for Cinco de Mayo.
They have little in common with the picadors and banderilleros of the corridas (bullfight), but they do share a passion for the foods and drinks of the Tex-Mex canon.
Allison and Glen are also partners in Southside 17 Bar and Grill on Johns Island.
Their culinary move “south” to the former Penachio’s Seafood & Italian location has been a labor of love and sweat equity.
Our visit took place during their third month of operation and the dining room and deck could use a little decorating love and the property itself calls out for a landscaper. I suspect all will happen in due time as the owners are committed to fine-tuning their menu offerings and are presently at work on a rear private dining room to accommodate events and large groups.
With “tequileria” in its name, 3 Matadors offers a wide range of tequilas to choose from.
Sixty-eight were on the menu at the time of our visit.
They also have a variety of margarita and mojito-inspired drinks along with Mexican beers and modestly priced wines ($6-$7).
The tequila selection ranges from simply distilled agaves (silver, gold) to rested or reposados ($7-$9) to a significant collection of aged anejos.
Each level of the tequila menu allows you to create your own tasting flight. Connoisseurs of Don Julio, the brand of tequila established in 1942 by then-17-year-old Julio Gonzalez Estrada, can toast his memory with a shot of Don Julio 1942 for $19.
The specialty tequilas are in the $10-$19 ranges; the remaining are $6-$9.
With such an agave-focused menu, it comes as no surprise that the bar side of the restaurant commands the larger real estate.
A small waiting area with sofa and chairs provides a spot to peruse the menu should a wait for a table be needed, and an outdoor deck can easily handle the overflow diners.
The dining room is painted adobe orange and sports a few token statues of men in sombreros, the requisite religious crosses and one wild horse print.
Bare windows are in need of some kind of window dressing as the setting sun makes those tables unforgiving.
The bar area has a nice run of seating with high tops and cozy booths. A single garage door opens up to the outdoor deck, which fills quickly and is the location (weather permitting) of musical entertainment.
The young staff can easily be overwhelmed with large groups, but there is no faulting their friendliness and willingness to do their part for your happiness.
Expect to see one or more of the owners checking in on your experience and your order.
Appetizers are substantial; designed, I am sure, to absorb those tequila shots . The queso is house-made ($4.95), and fresh jalapenos brighten and spice many of the dishes. Stuffed poblano ($4.95) or jalapeno ($9.95) make for good group starters, as does the “Quadruple Dipper” with queso, guacamole, salsa verde and mango salsa ($6.95).
Complementary thin, crisp tortilla chips with freshly made salsa come quickly to your table and are warm and not overly salted.
Kudos to the kitchen for the use of fresh herbs and creating a salad dressing menu that makes sense with the Tex-Mex options. Choose among a Mexican ranch dressing, an agave lime vinaigrette and a ranch dressing fired up with jalapenos.
Salads ($8.95-$9.95) come on a bed of lettuce in a tortilla bowl and are substantial. Whether Sante Fe style with beef, taco-style with ground beef, Baja-inspired with mahi-mahi or sweet-tart chicken salad with mango and jicama, you will find a refreshing antidote to summer’s heat.
Fajitas ($8.95-$10.95), quesadillas ($8.95) and burritos ($8.50) are substantial and fairly priced.
There are no combination plates, and a variety of sides ($2.95-$3.95) allow you to create a platter according to your own tastes. Slightly sweet pineapple rice, black beans and rice, or pinto beans and rice complement a simple green salad, bleu cheese slaw or grilled corn with smoky chipotle and sweet honey sauce are among your options.
The tacos (13 in all) can be had on a soft flour or soft corn tortilla. Doubled up for absorbency, my quibble is they were cold and the whole taco would benefit from being bundled in a warm wrap to either melt the cheese or meld the flavors.
The taco choices are creative and feature a black and blue carne asada ($3.95), a fajita style with red and green peppers, grilled onions and cheese and sour cream ($3.95), and a fiesta chicken with Mexican-ranch dressing and crunchy tortillas strips.
Classics are there for those who love ground beef ($3.25) albeit, a bit oily.
Mahi-mahi ($4.25), buffalo shrimp ($4.25) and blackened shrimp ($3.95) with mango salsa tempt those interested in the sea.
We took our server’s advice and went for the spicy, meaty Matador ($4.25) with chorizo, carne asada, pork, queso and pico de gallo. It packed a mild spice punch and certainly would satisfy any carnivore.
The shrimp are local and caught by one of the owner’s father (Capt. Mikell Glen of Rockville). So we tried the El Capitan ($4.25) with Mexi-slaw. The batter was a bit much, but the shrimp were fresh and the slaw countered the soft exterior with cabbage’s native crunch.
A dessert menu is in the planning stages. Paletas (Mexican fruit popsicles) would be ideal.
The food comes out quickly and feels a little “carry-out” with the use of much plastic ware, but judging from the crowds, the 3 Matadors resonates with the neighborhood, and that’s no bull.