My favorite Mexican restaurants are easily Nada in Cincinnati (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-5W) and the legendary duo of Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago (http://wp.me/s3jVIR-235). There are, of course, a myriad of Mexican restaurants, ranging from the gourmet establishments that I just mentioned to the most simple and authentic little holes in the wall, with varying degrees of success. I just reviewed one in the middle of that range called Riviera Maya in Indianapolis (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-6Q) that was pretty good, and I am staying in the same middle ground with my latest review, Chuy’s (http://www.chuys.com/) in Cincinnati. Ok, it’s technically Tex-Mex, but you get my point.
Located in the old Chi-nnati’s Pizza (one of the most underrated places I’ve ever eaten, by the way. The crust was a clone of Gino’s East in Chicago and the quality was very close), this place is huge. We went in fairly early, around 5:00 pm on the day before New Year’s Eve (which was a Monday). It was already starting to fill up, and as soon as I walked in both my wife and I were amazed at how much the place had been changed since it was Chi-nnati’s. It was divided up into different rooms (a weakness of the old place, actually, as it was almost too large before) and the décor has completely changed. Mexican tiles all over the place, including the ceiling, and completely different furniture and colors. I think they even changed the booths! Add in some pictures of Elvis and you have a kitschy place that you kind of have to love. There was music playing in the background, mostly 80’s and 90’s music, to liven the place up and the wait staff was very friendly and lively. Since we arrived during happy hour (4-7 M-F), there was a chips and salsa bar that also included queso, refried beans, and taco meat located in the back of an old car (fake, of course). What was great is that the chips and salsa bar was in the actual bar of the restaurant, which was very quickly filling up with locals (mostly women, actually) drinking margaritas (which are quite good, by the way) and seemingly having a good time.
As I alluded to earlier, the wait staff seemed friendly and ours was no different, although he did seem a bit awkward at times. However, he gave a great effort to be upbeat and on the ball, recommending the Perfect Margarita (which while these were not as good as the Bayless or Nada selections, was still an awesome margarita) and encouraging us to hit the free chips and salsa bar.
The menu was fairly big but not too large…smaller than most “more authentic” Mexican places, actually. The menus include such things as burritos, tacos, house specialties (such as chicken flautas), enchiladas, fajitas, and combos of the above. Both my wife and I decided to go with combos…she ordered Combo #1, the Comida Deluxe (cheese Tex-Mex enchiladas, chicken flautas, a seasoned ground sirloin crispy taco, guacamole, and homemade tostada chips dipped in chile con queso). I decided on the combo #5, the Chalupa and Enchilada (The first item is the Chicken Chalupa, which is a homemade corn tortilla fried and topped with refried beans, cheese, freshly-roasted, hand-pulled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and jalapenos. The second item was the Deluxe Chicken enchilada, which has freshly-roasted, hand-pulled chicken and cheese with deluxe tomatillo sauce). OK, that was a lot of words to type describing the two combos, and it’s how it was described on the menu. It’s pretty precise, though…the food is solid if unspectacular. Not as heavy as the more traditional Mexican restaurants, not as good as the gourmet ones. The chicken was pretty good…as described, white meat and a good amount of it. The ground sirloin was also good, didn’t seem overly greasy. The tortillas were good (my wife ordered her enchilada with a flour tortilla rather than a corn like mine had, and hers was better than mine) as well.
Overall, it’s solid, fun, and not too expensive. Our two combos plus my margarita was a “whopping” $25 and change including tax, although the margarita was $4 off because of happy hour (normally $8.95). For the price it’s a great option and a pretty fun evening.