Friday, February 5, 2010

If Eating at El Charro . . .

is like dining in a refined Tucson home, eating at Mi Nidito is like dining at a fiesta.

We had seen Mi Nidito on the Travel Channel’s "Man v. Food" with Adam Richman, the restaurant had been recommended to us by the two women who cut our hair, and the restaurant was recommended to us by a counter server at a different local restaurant (non-Mexican food). And in all cases, we were warned that we would have to wait in line.

Thinking that we could avoid the wait, we went to Mi Nidito (“My Little Nest”) after 1:00 p.m. on a rainy Wednesday. Guess what? We had to wait in line. But, as I said to Chuck: “All of these people can’t be wrong, can they?" No, they weren’t.

The first thing that you notice is that every surface is decorated. There is a profusion of plastic plants, flowered plastic garlands hang everywhere, strings of chili pepper lights are entwined with the garland, and neon beer signs hang on the walls. (We sat under one, accounting for the reddish—pink cast to some of the photos.)

The menu is a long one and offers both a la carte items and combo plates. The combos include: a chili relleno, cheese enchilada, bean tostada, and tamale plate; a carne con chili colorado, rice, beans and tortilla plate with red chili beef; a taco, tamale, cheese enchilada, and beans plate; chili rellenos (one of the house specialties) with rice, beans, and tortilla; carne seca (dried beef) with rice, beans and a tortilla; and birria (spiced shredded beef) with beans, rice, and a tortilla.

Among the taco options are the beef (ground beef patty), the rolled chicken, and the “health taco” (words you don’t often see on a Mexican restaurant menu) with melted cheese, avocado, tomato, onion, and sprouts. Burros (really big burritos) include bean, red or green chili with beef or beans, chorizo (Mexican spiced sausage), and the “Burro Deluxe” with beans, cheese, avocado, tomato, green chili, onions. The menu also lists a variety of tostadas, enchiladas, flautas, chimichangas, soups, and appetizers.

Chuck ordered the Flat Old-Fashioned Handmade Enchiladas topped with shredded beef, red enchilada sauce, and cheese with a side each of shredded lettuce and refried beans. One look at the photos and you will know why they roll the food out from the kitchen on carts. The servings are huge! Chuck’s enchiladas were interesting. Rather than the traditional rolled corn tortillas, the meat and toppings came atop three round masa (Masa is the backbone of Latin American cuisine. It is produced by soaking dried field corn in a lime solution and grinding it into a fine paste .) “pancakes” each about a quarter-inch thick and three inches in diameter. The use of the masa produced a more intense corn flavor that came through the meat, sauce, and cheese. I thought his beans were bland, but he seemed to enjoy them.

I went with the carne seca burro enchilada style. (For information on carne seca, see our January 17th post.) This was an enormous burro. Really enormous. Really, really enormous. So enormous that a third came home and was reheated for dinner that evening. I enjoyed the burro, but do have to give a slight edge to El Charro’s carne seca. Mi Nidito’s had a sharp flavor that might have come from the amount of lemon or other acid used in the marinating process. The green enchilada sauce was only mildly spicy, but was still tasty. (Both Chuck and I agree that the Mexican-style food in California and Arizona is milder than that in New Mexico. It must be those New Mexico chilis.) My rice was a little salty and only mildly seasoned.

We finished by each ordering the ice cream taco. This was basically a variation on the frozen ice cream cones we ate as kids. You know the ones. They come in a waffle cone and the ice cream is topped with a thin layer of chocolate and nuts. (Do they still make these?)

Mi Nidito has a “Presidential Table” (note the star in the lower portion of the photo) where Bill Clinton sat when visiting the restaurant. The "President’s Plate" - a bean tostada, a birria taco, a chili relleno, a chicken enchilada, and a beef tamale – is included on the menu commemorating the meal that President Clinton ate on this visit.

We gave El Charro a 5.0 Addie rating. Since El Charro’s sides were clearly superior, as was their carne seca, Mi Nidito earns a 4.0 Addie rating.

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