Sunday, November 7, 2010

There We Were . . .

in the courtyard of the Old Town Market when our phone rings. It’s Chuck’s cousin Karen Allsing. “Do you have a recommendation for a good Mexican restaurant in Old Town?” we ask.

“La Piñata,” she replies. Off we went.

“La Piñata is a delightful Mexican restaurant that keeps getting better with time. It's also the oldest restaurant in Old Town, so it's steeped in tradition . . . . The building was originally a house and began serving Mexican Food in the late 1920's through a ‘To Go’ window by the kitchen. By 1932, the building was converted into a table service restaurant called Ramona's Kitchen. In 1968, the name of the restaurant was changed to La Piñata” (from the restaurant’s web site).

As you walk through the doors, your eyes are over-whelmed by an onslaught of color-–everywhere. The walls are a variety of bright colors. The table tops are blue, green, yellow, or red. The chairs with their painted flowers come in a myriad of colors and have either green or yellow seats.
Piñatas in a multitude of colors and shapes hang from the low bamboo ceiling.

Painted wooden fish hang on the walls.

Illuminated beads are strung along the window frames and along the ceiling.

Outdoor seating was available, but since summer tempera-tures had returned on this day, we opted for indoor seating. The fireplace on the patio allows for al frescoe dining late into the fall.

Our server quickly brought a basket of tortilla chips and a small dish of salsa to our table so that we could munch while studying the long menu. The tomato-based salsa was light on the cilantro (this made Chuck happy and me unhappy), but was heavy on the jalapeño pepper seeds (this made me very happy.) We both kept commenting about the hot salsa as we dipped chip after chip. By the time we were ready to order, the basket was empty.

As with most Mexican restaurants, there is a fairly standard line-up of tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, and combo plates. But there was also a long list of house specials, many of which sounded tempting.

The specials (most of which come with rice, beans, and your choice of flour or corn tortillas) included: the Carne Asada Dinner with cuts of top sirloin served with guacamole and strips of roasted green chile; the Carnitas Tostada with chunks of pork along with beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese and topped with guacamole and sour cream; the Fajitadilla—a large, folded flour tortilla filled with cheese, bell peppers, onions, and your choice of our marinated top sirloin or chicken breast tenders; Mexican Pizza—a flour tortilla covered with shredded beef, beans, mild green chiles, diced tomato, onions, and melted cheddar cheese and topped with guacamole, sour cream, and sliced olives; and Chile Verde—pork mixed with a sauce of green tomatillos, onion, cilantro, and green chile.

From the list of specials, I chose the Chile Colorado with chunks of beef mixed with a red sauce flavored with tomatoes, onion, and green chiles and served with rice, beans and hot (flour) tortillas. I had intended to ask the server if I could pass on the beans and get a larger portion of rice. Fortunately for me, I forgot. These may have been the best version of Mexican beans I have eaten. I can’t identify exactly what elevated them from the pack of ordinary beans; I just know that they were delicious. The rice was better than most served at Mexican restaurants and was especially helpful—along with the flour tortillas–-in mopping up all of the delicious Colorado sauce.

My Chile Colorado was reminiscent of New Mexican Carne Adovado, except the Chile Colorado used beef and not pork and the red sauce was not nearly as spicy. Well, maybe they aren’t all that similar. But the long cooked beef was amazingly tender without any trace of fat or gristle, and the red sauce was slightly spicy, but not at all harsh tasting. The ultra thin flour tortillas were perfect for nestling a piece of meat and a bit of sauce. Delicious.

After having decided to order the taco and cheese enchilada combo, Chuck completely switched gears and chose the Vegetarian Fajitas. This was an extremely wise choice. His plate was a riot of color that mimicked the restaurant’s décor. He had yellow squash, orange carrots, green bell peppers, red tomatoes, onions, scallions, and a purple cabbage cup holding a portion of guacamole. (Since he doesn’t “do” guacamole, I got to eat this.) The veggies had been lightly tossed with a fajita marinade that provided just enough seasoning without obscuring the vegetables true flavors. And all of this came with a cup of black beans (that I thought could have used more seasoning) and a side of the same rice.

If it weren’t for our server disappearing for stretches of time (when you needed more water), this would have been a 5.0 Addie lunch so only earns a score of 4.5 Addies.

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