When it comes to eating Mexican food in the Scenic City, few people seem to know there are more options than the area's five Amigo restaurants. So when Poblanos Mexican Bar and Grill opened near Coolidge Park, I was eager to give it a try.
Located in the building that formerly housed Pisa Pizza, the restaurant has been renovated inside and out by owners Steve and Irma Hyde. They've created an inviting atmosphere and, on a recent Saturday, my wife and two of our friends dined outside on the new patio.
Where: Poblanos Mexican Bar and Grill, 551 River St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, noon-10 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $4.50 (cheese dip)-$22.95 (fajitas for two).
Although Poblanos' menu is smaller than a lot of other Mexican restaurants, it has all the normal staples as well as a few surprises. I feel like Poblanos is trying to distinguish itself as a more authentic and more upscale Mexican restaurant. Patrons can find everything from two corn tortilla tacos for $6.95 to fajitas for $14.95. There are nine appetizers, including guacamole ($6.95), Mexican pizza ($6.95) and ceviche ($10.95), a combination of shrimp, tilapia, cucumber, onions, tomato and avocado served in lime juice, with tortilla chips for dipping.
Among the entrees, guests can try the Torta Especial ($9.95), a Mexican sub roll with refried beans, your choice of meat, lettuce, tomato, avocado, queso and jalapenos. Or, for something more traditional, there is the Burrito Poblano ($12.95), chile relleno ($12.95) or enchiladas ($12.95).
There are also four choices for dessert, including flan ($4.50), tres leches cupcakes ($4.50) and Chocolate Molten Cake ($5.95).
As with most Mexican restaurants, each table is given complimentary chips and salsa. To my delight, Poblanos' chips are different and better than most. The chips are much thicker and full of flavor, much like the kind you'd find in a nachos dish.
Since there were four of us, we decided on two appetizers, the predictable but delicious cheese dip ($4.50) and the Mexican shrimp cocktail ($8.95). Rather than serving the shrimp chilled in the cocktail, it had been sautéed heavily in butter before being combined with the tomato- and lemon-based sauce. Cooking the shrimp in butter overpowered the taste of the sauce, as well as the onion, cilantro and other spices. It still was a tasty dish, but I wish the shrimp had been served chilled.
For dinner, I tried the Pollo Alegre ($12.95), while the others at the table ordered fajitas and flautas ($11.95). The Pollo Alegre is a seasoned chicken breast grilled with mixed vegetables, served over a bed of rice and topped with queso cheese. The fajitas are served with a grilled meat of your choice and traditional vegetables. The flautas are three flour tortillas filled with a choice of meat, then fried and topped with queso, pico de gallo, sour cream and cilantro.
The Pollo Alegre had a lot of flavor, though the chicken had been overcooked and was dry. Also, for $12.95, I was surprised the portion size wasn't bigger. The fajitas, on the other hand, were a lot of food, seasoned well and enough to take home for lunch. The flautas also were served in large portions, but rather than made with the common corn tortilla, these were made with flour. That gave the tortilla a very sweet taste, which I didn't care for. Each dish also was served on top of a bed of rice and beans, but I would have preferred these on the side.
Our server was nice and fairly knowledgeable about the menu, but she was very, very busy. This meant our drinks often ran dry. Unfortunately, while the restaurant did not appear to be overly crowded, we waited more than 35 minutes for our food. Our server stopped by to apologize multiple times and inform us the kitchen was very backed up. Apparently, there also was some confusion there as my wife's fajitas were sent to the wrong table. We waited another five-plus minutes for her food to be cooked, then we were all able to eat.
The owners have created a nice atmosphere inside and out at Poblanos. They've created a totally new bar area and made effective use of the dining area inside. The patio area is wonderful on a cool evening.
I'd try Poblanos again. I have high hopes they'll smooth out the workload for the servers so they can give adequate attention to their tables. And the food, though it is pricey, has great flavor. I'd like to go back and try another dish or two on the menu rather than have what passes for standard Mexican fare at many area restaurants.