Monday, November 28, 2011

Los Portales Mexican Restaurant

Los Portales Mexican Restaurant, 430 Moffett Boulevard, Mountain View, CA 94040
Date: 28 Nov 11
Meal: Lunch
Cost (Value):  $$$ (4)
(for details on the rating codes we use for restaurants, click here)

General: I have eaten at Los Portales several times (in fact it was one of the first Mexican restaurants I sampled when I first moved back to the Central Coast).  I am glad I finally got the chance to review it here, since it is one of the better places I've tried since I started this blog.  Los Portales is a little off the beaten path where most poeple wouldn't drive right by it, but this family-run restaurant is worth a small diversion if you happen to be in the area.

I ordered: On this trip, I ordered the Combinacion Grande G5 (including a cheese enchilada, beef tamale, beef taco, rice, and beans). But, on past trips, I've primarily eaten one of several Los Portales speciality burritos.

Good: Readers of this blog know that I can't help bhut comment on a restaurant's atmosphere, or lack thereof, and believe it is an important part of the overall dining experience; so it is with Los Portales.  The restaurant isn't much to look at from the outside, but the inside is tastfully decorated and Spanish-language music is played at a respectable volume.  The staff is uber-friendly; as I mentioned, the restaurant is family-owned and family-operated, with the hostess, wait staff, and chefs all drawn from a pool of willing family members.  I wouldn't call Los Portales menu "diverse," exactly, but they do have a good selection of traditional favorites (tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tamales, and ensaladas), as well as a decent seafood selection.  While purusing the menu, I began munching on the chips and salsa... What was this? A salsa that is the perfect mix of soupy and chunky, with a fresh, strong and spicy flavor that screamed "I was just made this morning".  I loved it!! And when I asked for the spicier stuff, the conconction they brought out was equally tasty (I could taste the chiles!) and really delivered the heat.  My order came out very quickly (the restaurant wasn't that full on a Monday at lunch) and was piping hot (always a good sign!).  The taco was pretty standard, but tasty, and the tamale and enchilada were both well made.  The rice and beans were excellent, very flavorful and a perfect compliment to the main items on the plate.  I feel compelled to discuss Los Portales selection of burritos here (even if I didn't get one on this trip), as they are really the stars of the menu.  Their burritos, most of which seem to be named after members of the family (such as "Ramone's Favorite"), are saucy affairs, filling and delicious!  There is a large variety of burrito choices, for very resonable prices based on their size, and every burrito I've tried has delivered; my favorite so far is "Reggie's Favorite Burrito" (which they are welcome to rename "Ryan's Favorite" *joking*), stuffed with pork and sliced nopalitos.  It is also worth mentioning that on my several trips to Los Portales, I have noticed that it has several regulars that seem to frequent the eatery daily; in my years as a foodie, I've usually found a regular following to be a positive indicator of a restaurant's quality over time.

Bad:  Not much at all to pick on here... It would be nice if the menu had a bit more variety, such as a good sopa de tortilla or some appetizers, but that is a small complaint, certainly.  The enchilada sauce coving the tamale and enchilada was not very flavorful, but not bad; it did not hurt my enjoyment of the meal, but neither did it contribute anything positive, which means it could have been left off with equal effect.  Also, the prices seemed just a touch high, with most food of decent size going for between $13-$15; however, if you are looking for yummy and fillling on a smaller budget, stick to the excellent burritos (most are $9-$11).

Overall:    Los Portales Mexican Restaurant is definitely a solid choice, and I will keep going back there for the great staff, excellent food, and can't miss salsa.  If you have a chance, I'd highly recommend it for you as well! Los Portales Mexican on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Peppers Mexicali Cafe

Peppers Mexicali Cafe, 170 Forest Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Date: 26 Nov 11
Meal: Lunch
Cost (Value):  $$$ (4)
(for details on the rating codes we use for restaurants, click here)

General: When a little after-Turkey Day comida is in order, nothing hits the spot like good Mexican food.  Peppers is another one of Pacific Grove's classic eateries that puts a non-traditional spin on some of foodies' favorite fare.

I ordered: Chile verde with corn tortillas. My lunch companions ate a smoked gouda quesadilla, a enchilada-style beef burrito, a combination plate with a guacamole taco and beef enchilada, and a boel of "Yesterday's Soup" (sweet corn and cheddar chowder).

Good: One of the first things that struck me when I entered Peppers was the excellent atmosphere and yummy smells; the decorations were plentiful (but not gaudy), the music was present (but not overpowering), and there was a full bar just inside the door! While good atmosphere does not always translate into good food, it can certainly contribute to an overall dining experience.  The chips and salsas were delicious; the light, crunchy corn triangles tasted fresh and served as the perfect vehicle for transporting each of two (verde and roja) tangy, tasty salsas to my mouth.  And what could be better than good chips and salsa? A fast and friendly wait staff that refills both without being asked...  I am a sucker restaurants that enjoy the fact that their patrons enjoy their chips and salsa!  I ordered my chile verde extra spicy (there is a note in the menu warning customers that the chile verde is already a very spicy dish), and I was hoping the chef would not let me down.  When the food was served, I thought it was presented very nicely. It was obvious that each dish was plated to look good as well as taste good; a mix of colorful edibles, such as peppers, guacamole, and olives made each dish visually appealing.  Further, it as obvious that the value was there, as eat plate contained a lot of food.  Focusing on my dish, I was ready to eat!  So many restaurants assume they know what is best for their customers' taste buds, despite what the customer might request, but not Peppers... They gave me exactly what I asked for (woowee!) and it was GOOD!  The chile verde popped and deliver the spice I was looking for... Cooled a bit by a judicious application of sour cream, the flavor was nearly perfect.  I also had the opportunity taste the "Yesterday's Soup" ordered by one of my companions; the corn and cheddar chowder was hearty, sweet, and flavorful.  Reports from my friends about their dishes were also generally positive: the smoked gouda quesadilla was gourmet, with chicken, red peppers, olives, and artichoke hearts, and looked grilled rather than pan or griddle-fried; the beef burrito was hearty; and the combination was a good balance of heavy and light that delviered on the flavor front.

Bad:  "Into each life, a little rain must fall..."  There were a couple of chinks in Peppers' armor that kept this from being an absolutely terrific experience...  Food temperature was an issue for me and at least one of my companions; the first time my chile verde came out, the pork was only lukewarm (but, our waiter cheerfully fixed the problem right away).  And, while the chile verde was packed with flavor, the rice and beans were very plain and bland; depending on what you expect from your rice and beans, this may not be a problem, particularly since in this case they managed to be a good counterpoint to the super spicy pork and tasted extremely fresh.  They were a little stingy with the corn tortillas, giving me only two small tortillas for A LOT of chile verde; admittedly, I did not request any extras, so I am unsure if they would have brought me more free of charge.  Lasty, it is worth noting that my friend that ordered the beef burrito was surprised to find that it contained cubed stew meat, rather than shredded beef like she expected; she also said that the sauce covering the burrito was a deep red mole-style sauce that was very sweet and earthy, which might appeal to some but was not to her personal taste.

Overall:    Peppers Mexicali Cafe was a pleasant surprise, and their unqiue twist on traditional dishes provided the perfect mix of both visual and culinary appeal. A few issues (easily corrected) would not keep me from going back to this solid Mexican eatery.
Peppers Mexicali Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mando's Restaurant

Mando's Restaurant, 162 Fountin Avenue, Pacific Grove, CA 93950
Date: 11 Nov 11
Meal: Dinner
Cost (Value): $$-$$$ (4)
(for details on the rating codes we use for restaurants, click here)

General: Mando's moved into this location semi-recently (a year ago, maybe?), replacing a restaurant called Zocalo's.  While I had eaten at Zocalo's, it wasn't that memorable.  So, when my parents suggested we give the new resident (Mando's) a try, I wasn't sure what to expect.  But, as soon as we took a look at the menu, I knew Mando's had some promise and hoped it would deliver!

I ordered: Pozole and tacos al pastor. My dinner companions ate carnitas tacos, a cheese enchilada, chile verde, and a tamale.

Good: You have to love a Mexican restaurant that is open for all three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner).  The atmosphere in the restaurant was okay, with a few decorations scattered across the walls of the small dining room.  Even though the menu was not very large, the diversity was pretty good, with a selection of favorites to appeal to those that like different styles.  The service at Mando's was extremely friendly, and provided a pleasant overall experience.  One of the best parts of my Mando's trip was the value; the amount of food served was worth every penny it cost (between $11 and $16 for most items).  I asked for spicier salsa, which the waitress happily provided, but, while the result was certainly flavorful, whether or not it was much spicier is debatable.  When the food arrived, it looked great! The rice on each plate was very interesting, with chunks of potato and carrot, and had a hint of citrus in the flavor.  One of my companions reported that the carnitas tacos were pretty good and the cheese enchilada was solid.  My other guest ssaid the chile verde was likewise tasty, and both raved about and recommended the tamale.  One of my favorite things was the homemade tortillas; the edges of the thick, fresh corn tortillas made them look hand-pressed, and they were delicious!

Bad:  Despite the overall positive experience, there was definitely some room for improvement.  My pozole (a dish of which I am particularly fond), was a bit bland.  The soup was served with lemon and Mexican oregano, but the former was not enough and the latter was both overpowering and not particularly delicious.  The al pastor pork in my tacos likewise was not spiced exactly right... I could have listed the tacos under the "Good" section, as they were okay, but I expected more; for those of you that like heavily flavored sweet al pastor meat (like I do), this pork is probably not what you're looking for.  The black beans served with one of the meals were pretty basic and a bit bland. And, last (but not least for some of you), Mando's did not appear to serve margaritas.


Mando's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tres Gringos (Airport Eatery)

Tres Gringos, Gate 12, Mineta San Jose International Airport, 1701 Airport Boulevard, San Jose, CA 95110
Date: 7 Nov 11
Meal: Breakfast
Cost (Value): $$ (2)
(for details on the rating codes we use for restaurants, click here)

I thought I'd add a general discussion in each post from here on out, as well as an "I ordered" section, in addition to just the "Good" and "Bad" sections that I've used in previous posts... Sometimes there's things to talk about that aren't really good or bad, they just are. So, here goes...

General: Never let it be said that I don't review EVERY Mexican food restaurant at which I eat. I know an airport eatery isn't readily accessible to everyone looking for a quick dinner, but it meets the criteria for my blog (Mexican restaurant near the Central Cali Coast), so I subjected it to scrutiny.  If you're stuck in the airport waiting for a flight and are craving a good taco, seeing an eatery like this in the terminal is the answer to your prayers. Unfortunately, Tres Gringos will still leaving you wanting a good taco. It is worth mentioning, this review is ONLY for the airport eatery, and NOT for the Tres Gringos Baja Cantina located at 83 South 2nd Street, San Jose, CA.

I ordered: Carnitas street tacos, with chips and salsa.

Good: One of the best things that can be said about Tres Gringos is that it is convenient; if you are waiting for a flight, you can easily pop in for a bite (my gate happened to be right near Gate 12). I ate there at breakfast time, but they had their entire menu available, which is kind of unique.  The chips were tasty and the salsa served with them was surprisingly spicy (I like my salsa to burn my face off, and it wasn't on that scale, but it would be okay for the average Joe).  And, the waiter asked me if I'd like some more salsa, which was good service.

Bad:  The chips and salsa were not free (which is a pet peeve of mine), but that is to be expected at the airport, I guess. Of far more concern was the lack of overall value on the menu, which is also to be expected at an airport, but I don't have to like it! Each of my street tacos were small (as street tacos often are), but cost $4+ apiece.  This was particularly unfortunate since the carnitas tasted a little "off," and although they were topped with onion and cilantro, that usual winning combination contributed little to the taste.  Further, the corn tortillas around my tacos did not appear that they had so much as touched a grill and appeared straight out of the package.  Overall, the fare was very disappointing.

Overall (for the airport location): 

Tres Gringos Baja Cantina on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jose's Mexican Bar & Grill

Jose's Mexican Bar & Grill, 638 Wave St, Monterey, CA 93940
Date: 4 Nov 11
Meal: Dinner
Cost (Value): $$ (4)
(for details on the rating codes we use for restaurants, click here)

Good: Jose's is one of my Dad's favorite joints, but the previous times I'd eaten there (admittedly, a year or two ago), I don't remember being impressed. However, I decided to give it another go, this time with a critical eye.  The atmosphere is good, with bright colors and Mexican sundries on the walls, and Hispanic music playing at a respectful volume.  The margarita I had was tasty, if pretty standard, but didn't taste watered down.  We were served two types of salsa, a red and a green; the red had better flavor, but the green was a bit more picante.  Both salsas tasted outstandingly fresh, and the chips (which were also freshly made in-house) were refilled by our server repeatedly without having to be asked.  For my entree, I ordered a Combination #3 (two tacos and an cheese enchilada, with rice and beans).  All the food came out piping hot, which is a great start, and there was a lot of it for the price (about $11.50).  Although I ordered a cheese enchilada, a beef enchilada came out by mistake; however, when I reported the error, our server quickly and happily brought me out a fresh cheese enchilada too.  Great customer service!! The rice and beans were quality, but the estrella del plato was definitely the cheese enchilada; the enchilada sauce was plentiful and tasty, the cheese was gooey and stringing, and it tasted like it had been made by hand just minutes before it was put on my plate.

Bad:  Although the enchiladas hit a homerun, the tacos definitely could have been better.  The shells were fried (I asked), but felt and tasted baked.  It seemed like a weird fried-baked hybrid thing, that was definitely edible, just a little strange.  In addition, the shredded beef in the tacos was a little dry, and definitely bland. So close to greatness...


Joses Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rosa's La Villa

Rosa's La Villa, 766 Broadway Ave, Seaside, CA 93955
Date: 29 Oct 11
Meal: Lunch
Cost (Value):  $$ (3)
(for details on the rating codes we use for restaurants, click here)

Good: Rosa's is a family-owned and operated joint that calls itself a "Jalisco-style" taqueria.  The salsas were tasty with  good flavor, and the chips tasted homemade (although they were obviously not, since I saw the bags they came out of).  They serve menudo on the weekends, and have daily specials, including chile verde and chicken mole. All the tortillas were homemade and tasted fresh; the corn was especially tasty.  They served tortilla soup, complete with queso fresco, which is always a nice touch.  The carne asada steak was grilled to be a little “harder” than tender or stewed beef, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it had that real grilled flavor.  The tamales, cheese enchilada, and chicken enchilada were all good.  The carne asada burrito was tasty and a good size, but not unique or otherwise remarkable.  But the pork... Ah, the pork! The pork was all done Al Pastor-style, sweet and savory, and caramelized on the grill; by far the best part of the food.

Bad:  There was not a lot of parking. They seemed a little stingy with the chips and salsa (which is part of the appeal of a good Mexican restaurant). When I asked for their salsa mas picante, they brought out a tasty (if small) serving of tomatillo sauce, but it was still not very spicy.  The interior did not have much atmosphere, but if what you're after is the food, this is of minor concern.  Lastly, the tortilla soup was a little bland, but even that is offset by the fact that it tasted fresh and contained a wide variety of ingredients.


Rosa La Villa Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Rating System

Here's the low-down on the codes we use for rating each restaurant or recipe:

$ = Average entree is $6 or less
$$ = Average entree is $6-12
$$$ = Average entree is $12-18
$$$$ = Average entree is $18-25

5 = Outstanding value for the money
4 = Good value for the money
3 = Okay or average value for the money
2 = Questionable value for the money
1 = Not good value for the money

= Among the best Mexican food restaurants anywhere!
= Excellent overall and would DEFINITELY go back.
= Pretty good and is worth another visit.
= Okay. Could do worse.
= Not very good.