Thursday, December 25, 2008

Feliz Navidad - 1

One of the things we enjoy about traveling in the Southwest is the availability of Mexican or Mexican-influenced food. So, we were anxious to try some local restaurants with me always looking for the ultimate Chili Rellenos.

Our first stop was Mamacita’s in Kerrville. Based on the glowing reviews I had read on the web and a packed large parking lot every time we drove past, we approached this large faux adobe restaurant with anticipation. I became disconcerted when, upon entering, I saw both a Starbucks and a Cheesecake Factory located just inside the main doors. When our waitperson came to the table and announced “Hello, my name is ____ and I’ll be your server today,” I was sure we were getting Mexican for gringos.

From the luncheon specials menu, Chuck chose a beef taco and beef enchilada plate (right) with rice and refried beans; I chose the Chili Rellenos plate (below) with rice and, instead of the refried beans, la charra beans (whole beans served with a small amount of seasoned cooking liquid).

Chuck’s taco was ordinary and his enchilada small. The refried beans were without flavor, and in both of our cases, the rice was watery and bland. My Chili Rellenos was a large poblano pepper stuffed with seasoned meat, lightly battered, and topped with a generous amount of green chili sauce. Both of our meals came with fresh flour tortillas that we could see being made in a tortilla kitchen along one of the side walls.

Frankly, the best aspects of this meal were the two salsas with chips that preceded our entrees. One was a tomato salsa that was spicy with good onion, garlic, and cilantro flavors. The green salsa was very mild but had great cilantro flavor. I used to intensely dislike cilantro, but after many meals at Mexican restaurants, have developed a real appreciation of this herb. Chuck has not reached my level of appreciation, so when I make Pico de Gallo, I have to go easy on the cilantro.

Mamacita’s is a regional chain with outlets in Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, San Marcos, and San Antonio. Our lunches were good but not memorable. We left still wanting good Mexican food and agreed that Mamacita’s would only earn 3.5 out of 5.0 Addies.

Still on the hunt, we received a recommendation that El Sombrero de Jalisco served really good Mexican food. So one day we decided to give this spot a try. After reviewing the very extensive menu, I chose a combination plate with one beef enchilada and one Chili Rellenos. This came with refried beans and Spanish rice. Chuck’s lunch was two beef enchiladas and beef taco plate with refried beans.

Again, lunch started with a complimentary bowl of spicy red salsa and a basket of tortilla chips. (I don’t know why restaurants claim that this is complimentary – we know the cost is factored into the price of each meal.) My serving of food was enormous – so large that half came home with me for supper that evening. The enchiladas on both of our plates were quite large and good but not great. Chuck thought that the taco shell tasted as though it came from a box. The refried beans were bland. The rice, on the other hand, was very good a definite improvement over Mamacita’s.

My Chili Rellenos was a medium sized poblano pepper, again stuffed with lightly seasoned beef, battered, fried, and covered with green chili sauce and cheese. In fact, the chili was covered with too much cheese that had a processed cheese flavor.

We left feeling that we had eaten more authentic Mexican food but not great Mexican food. Again, we are awarding the same 3.5 Addies for cardboard taco shells and bland refried beans.

The search continues tomorrow with Part 2.

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