Drivers along Little Debbie Parkway in Ooltewah know that once you've passed Walmart, there is little else along that road until you reach the intersection with Apison Pike in Collegedale.
In one of the parkway's two strip centers is a small restaurant space. At least two restaurants have come and gone there — most likely due to its low-profile location off Lee Highway's main drag. El Jinete Mexican Restaurant opened in spring 2016, but we didn't notice it until just recently.
However, word is slowly spreading through social media and word of mouth that there is good food there for reasonable prices.
El Jinete translates to "the horseman," and you'll find a caballero astride a rearing black stallion painted into the wall mural inside the restaurant.
The one-room dining space is small with 12 upholstered high-back booths and six tables. Its most distinguishing feature is a 6-foot-tall, stacked-stone wall that partitions the room into two halves.
If you go
› Where: El Jinete Mexican Restaurant, 5559 Little Debbie Parkway
› Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
› Prices: $1.75- $14.99
› Alcohol: Yes
› Phone: 423-713-5400
A shaded patio with six to eight tables wraps around the southern corner of the restaurant that will provide enjoyable al fresco dining this fall.
There are seven El Jinete Mexican Restaurants in Georgia cities surrounding Atlanta, and one in Athens, Tenn., on Congress Parkway. The Ooltewah location is its first in Chattanooga.
El Jinete's menu is huge. Seriously, a diner could order something different every day and not repeat himself the rest of the year.
There are nine burrito choices, seven steak entrees, 10 vegetarian offerings, 17 seafood choices, innumerable fajita and chimichanga suggestions, appetizers, salads and a kids menu. Then there is a list of 25 combination possibilities all priced at $8.99. The menu's color photos make decisions easier.
I asked about the house specialty, which our waitress didn't know, but she did say the fajitas and shrimp tacos are the best-sellers. The seafood lover in me immediately gravitated to shrimp tacos. My son and his wife chose chicken enchilada/taco combo plates. Their two preschoolers picked hot dogs and fries off the children's menu, which turned out to be servings large enough to make an adult meal.
Diners are served complimentary chips and salsa when seated. The salsa was thin for our taste, more like a tomato sauce. So we ordered queso, and the cheese dip lived up to expectations.
When my tacos arrived, three flour tortillas were served containing four grilled shrimp each, along with sides of coleslaw, pico de gallo and seasoned rice. When I took a bite of the pico, it bit back with heat that was too fiery for my preference.
The soft tacos by themselves were just "meh," but when the creamy coleslaw was added, it created a flavor burst that will bring me back again. Our waitress wouldn't divulge what was in that slaw, only that it was homemade each morning
The combo plates held large enchiladas packed with pulled chicken sauteed in onions and peppers, rolled into a tortilla and smothered in red sauce. Although they were visually more appealing than the beef taco, it was the taco my son raved about.
The shell was filled with a thick layer of seasoned beef, shredded lettuce and queso fresco. He deemed it the best, most flavorful taco he'd ever eaten. Entrees also came with large servings of seasoned rice.
We sampled cinnamon-sweet sopapillas and creamy Mini Chimi Raspberry Cheesecakes for dessert, both served with cinnamon-flavored ice cream. The mini chimichanga includes three fried, cheesecake-filled tortillas, drizzled in raspberry coulis and chocolate sauce, creating an ooey-gooey, melt-in-your-mouth treat.
Our waitress was prompt taking and returning drink orders and taking our dinner order — then we didn't see her again until she picked up our empty plates 45 minutes later. Our meal was served by other employees, and no one asked about drink refills. We waited again for our checks. But in fairness, it appeared she was waiting on half of the restaurant's tables. She was polite and answered all our questions patiently. So overall, I'd judge the service adequate.
El Jinete Mexican Restaurant's entrees aren't anything above the norm; but they are good, flavorful dishes in servings fair for the price. The restaurant was full of families like us looking for a good meal that wouldn't break the household budget. And that's El Jinete in a nutshell.
Contact Susan Pierce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6284.