Immediately upon entering Pico de Gallo, a tiny hole-in-the-wall on South Street, its appeal is evident. The interior is kitschy, filled with random decorations, haphazardly strewn strings of lights and ample mementos of Dia de los Muertos, and one gets the sense that the decor has built up over time, falling into place with just the right amount of effort. The same effective effortlessness is reflected in the food; each dish was a pleasant, graceful blend of simple flavors designed to gently please rather than to overwhelm.
After sampling the multi-colored, crispy tortilla chips served with spicy salsa, I began with the Mexican puffy tacos ($3.50) --three corn tacos filled with Guajillo pork and queso cotija. Though a little heavy on iceberg lettuce and low on flavor, the pork was tender and moist. My guests shared the plate of nachos, which was small and unexciting but filled with fresh ingredients that made the dish pleasant overall.
For my main course, I had the turkey-hen filled blue corn tortillas ($8.25). Pico de Gallo features a different mole sauce every day; that day, my tortillas were topped with a sauce made with dried chiles, garlic and onions which added just the right amount of spice. The turkey was tender and delicious, nicely complimented by the soft, crumbly blue corn tortilla. I grew to like the dish more and more with every bite, and the poor presentation and lack of powerful flavor was more than compensated for by the blend of simple flavors crafted with fresh ingredients.
My guests had the cheese quesadilla, which was disappointing for its lack of anything but cheese; they fixed the problem by adding salsa and the restaurant's fantastic jalape‹¨«os. They also ordered the chicken fajita plate ($9), served with rice, beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. Finally, they tried the Portobello mushroom fajita salad ($8.50), characterized by its fresh-tasting ingredients. The words on all of our lips by the end of the evening were freshness and simplicity.
To end the meal we shared the burrito-fried ice cream. The creamy, milky chocolate ice cream topped with a crispy rice chocolate shell was perfectly sized for the four of us to share and a pleasant ending to our meal.
Pico de Gallo is full of good surprises, like the availability of free-range chicken, its inventive glassware and its rustic appetizer plates. Though the food is unappetizingly presented, each dish is a combination of fresh ingredients that blend together to create good, simple flavors, allowing each ingredient to gently assert itself; the portions are perfectly sized to satisfy without overfilling. Most of all, the prices and food quality left myself and my companions wondering why a small group of people would choose to bring their handle of tequila to El Azteca rather than Pico de Gallo.