By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jun 01, 2017 at 5:54 PM

Life is complicated. Thank goodness that’s not true for everything.

Take, for instance, the tacos at The Laughing Taco, 1033 S. 1st St. in Walker’s Point, which are simple as can be.

The highly anticipated taqueria quietly opened earlier today, serving more than 70 diners already over the lunch hour.

The 20-seat restaurant, owned by Chef Justin Carlisle and his wife Lucia Muñoz, finds its inspiration in the taquerias of northern Mexico, including those in Monterrey where Muñoz grew up. In fact, the idea for the restaurant sprung to life after a visit to Mexico.

"When Justin first visited Mexico with me, he loved the delicious, simple food from the taquerias. It wasn’t something he’d tried before," says Muñoz, "And he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have one of these in Milwaukee?’"

The restaurant itself is bright and clean, sporting white paint and tile offset by bright red stools at both window-side counters and a bar surrounding the small open kitchen. A television in the corner of the restaurant will likely broadcast sports games, says Muñoz, mostly soccer.

Matching red Le Creuset pots adorn shelves near the kitchen.

And there’s a little black gnome. It was a gift, Muñoz says, from Chef Mitch Ciohon of Gypsy Taco, a colleague with whom they are likely planning a collaboration or two in the future.

The name – now emblazoned on a new sign outside the restaurant – was gleaned from a taqueria Muñoz remembers from childhood. "It was called Taqueria Riendo (laughing)," she says. "I don’t know if it’s still open, but the name stayed with me. And I’ve always loved it." 

Part of the fun is in the word-play, she says, giving a nod to her career as a linguist and high school teacher. Taqueria Riendo, when pronounced quickly in Spanish, sounds almost identical to "esta corriendo" (he or she is running). "People who speak Spanish will find it somewhat amusing," she says.

The menu

On our initial visit to the restaurant last week, the air was filled with the rich, smokey smell of chiles as Chef Travis Cook prepared a variety of salsas in the small kitchen.

Cook is a transplant from San Francisco, who originally came to Milwaukee to visit his girlfriend, but who found inspiration in Carlisle’s food at Ardent and decided to give the Cream City a try.

This week, the air was filled with the smell of pork roasting on the vertical rotisserie. The slushie machines were flowing. And tacos were the name of the game.

Bistek tacos  are made with beef from the Carlisle family farm in Sparta, Wisconsin. Meanwhile trompo, as it is known in northern Mexico, will features traditional vertically roasted pork (called al pastor in Central Mexico). Both are served street-style on small corn tortillas with raw onions and fresh cilantro ($2.75 each or five for $12).

Additional tacos include the gringa, a flour tortilla topped with pork and quesadilla cheese ($4.75 each or three for $12). "There’s this story," Muñoz says, "that originated at Tizo Ncito Tacqueria in Mexico City. I’m not sure if it’s an urban legend. But it’s said that ladies from the U.S. would come in and order their tacos on flour tortillas with cheese. The tacos became known as gringa tacos."

Similarly, the pirata features steak, cheese and avocado on a flour tortilla ($4.75 each or three for $12) and the compenchano ("mixed") will feature steak, pork, cheese and avocado on a flour tortilla ($5 each or three for $12.

Vegetarian options are based on family recipes from Muñoz's mother and include nopalitos, cactus in a mild chile-based sauce or papas, potatoes, cooked in a tomato-based sauce served on diners’ choice of corn or flour tortillas ($2.50 each or 5 for $10).

On the side, there are three salsas, two green (one mild and one that's sneakily spicy) and one red salsa that falls right in the middle, heat-wise.

Eventually, she says, they hope to use fresh tortillas made with corn from the family farm, as well as Mexican style cheese made locally for the restaurant.

"We want to make sure, as much as we can, that the ingredients are local and as fresh as possible," says Muñoz, who notes that other varieties of tacos may be featured on the menu moving forward, possibly as specials on weekends.

On the beverage side, there is soda ($4) including Mexican Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta and Topo Chico; beer, including Dos Equis, Bohemia, Sol and Spotted Cow ($5); and alcoholic slushies similar to the ones they serve at Red Light Ramen. These, however, will be tequila-based.

A core offering will be the paloma slushy, modeled after the cocktail made with tequila and grapefruit. The second flavor, which will change out on a regular basis, is currently margarita. A Mezcal based slushie is likely to be on the list. Slushies are $5 for a small and $10 for a grande.

The Laughing Taco offers both dine-in and take-out. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.