At Sheila’s Taqueria in Melvindale, the vessels deliver

Holding it together

Jan 26, 2023 at 4:00 am
click to enlarge Sheila’s Taqueria uses bread from its sister bakery. - Tom Perkins
Tom Perkins
Sheila’s Taqueria uses bread from its sister bakery.

The vessels on which many Mexican lunches or dinners are served are perhaps at times a bit underappreciated part of the equation. A killer birria or piquant al pastor can make you ignore or forgive a standard-issue, pre-packaged tortilla in a taco, dough in a huarache, or bread in a torta.

The very best spots deliver on both elements. Among those in metro Detroit is Sheila’s Taqueria. For various reasons, the dough used in the sopes, huaraches, gorditas, and tortas share the stage with the al pastor, chorizo, and asada. That partly owes to Shelia’s being the restaurant version of a bakery of the same name in Southwest Detroit, which largely made its mark by producing goods on the sweeter end of the spectrum.

But the Taqueria gets its daily delivery from the bakery, and the fresh, crusty bread that held the torta with milanesa de res, or breaded steak, stood out. It was packed with shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, avocado, refried beans, cheddar, pickled jalapeño, and crema, and was a delicious mess. But the pambazo was the superior sandwich on the first visit. For the uninitiated, pambazos’ soft, crusty bread is dipped in a guajillo chile sauce, then fried to give it a slightly crisp exterior. In between the deep red pieces of bread is salty chorizo with big, soft hunks of soft potato that sop up the flavor. It's finished with pickled jalapeños, a thick coating of shredded iceberg lettuce, and cooling crema.

The corn masa dough comprising the gorditas, sopes, and huaraches all possessed a perfectly crisp exterior, and were soft and puffy inside. The al pastor in the gordita was slightly sweet and piquant, packed into the pocket with shredded iceberg, lettuce, tomato, avocado, crema, and a dusting of cotija cheese. The birria on the huarache was perhaps the only thing I wouldn’t order again as it was a bit dry, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and it was topped with the same mix of iceberg lettuce, tomato, crema, avocado, and cotija.

Most of the two jumbo sandwiches and the heartily packed gordita and huarache left Sheila’s in my belly, not in a take home box — a willingness to eat to this level of discomfort is a good sign. The chef packed up what scraps I had leftover and we spent a funny moment attempting in broken English and Spanish to marvel over how much I had just eaten.

The taqueria is inside a store-bakery selling sweets and other baked goods, along with drinks and staple foodstuffs. The restaurant portion is comprised of a small counter and bare bones dining room, and lunch was a little slow on a Monday, but was so slammed on a Wednesday that the staff didn’t have time to bring out the chips and salsa that usually come with the meal.

Several friends whose tastes I trust had alerted me to or agreed that I should visit Shelia’s, which launched its taqueria in 2018. The restaurant is named after the owner’s daughter, and a manager said business had been booming prior to COVID and was picking up again. On two lunchtime visits, the other diners were blue collar types — the restaurant is smack in the middle of the state’s industrial heartland.

On the second visit, the El Hawiaina, or The Hawaiian, which is an al pastor torta with hunks of pineapple, was a pleasant surprise. Al pastor is made on a spit topped with pineapple slices, which drip down the sweet juice and give the meat its sweet and savory profile, so the Hawaiian torta is a smart idea. In an attempt to control my gluttony, I limited myself to one sandwich and an order of sopes, which like their huarache and gordita cousins, were soft, puffy discs with crispy exteriors. Went for the chorizo again, and the sopes came topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato, crema, avocado, and cotija.

Both meals were washed down with a horchata, though there’s an entire convenience store of beverages to choose from, and it’s tempting to grab a loaf of bread on your way out the door.

Location Details

Sheila’s Bakery and Taqueria

18942 Dix Rd., Melvindale Detroit


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