By Jim Duncan CVFDude@aol.com
Mexican restaurant updates
My dining buddy Wroburlto says that sooner or later every restaurant venue in Des Moines will have been a Mexican café at least once. My money is on later, but 20 years ago no one would have guessed that The Nosh, Baker’s Square, Howard Johnson’s, Country Kitchen and The Soup Kitchen would all be successful Mexican joints today. That list needs monthly updates, too. Three of the newest Mexican places don’t break new ground so much as spread a familiar table of things we’ve seen and tasted before. That’s particularly true, and quite successful, at Raul’s.
Raul Hernandez wrote his own chapter in the history of Mexican restaurants in Des Moines. His original place was the east side’s favorite Mexican restaurant for the majority of its 43 years. His family opened a second place in Clive, too, but closed both restaurants in 2005, citing unfair competition from taco trucks among other things. This spring, his daughter, Connie Hernandez-Limke, reopened the franchise in a building that housed Captain’s Table, Eighth Street Seafood and Fratello’s. It’s also across the street from the long-running Garcia’s of Scottsdale, thus filling a double Mexican nostalgia void. The new Raul’s bustles like Jimmie’s American Café did in its heyday. Coincidentally, that long-running hit closed a month after Raul’s opened across the street. Raul’s parking lot overflowed at very early hours. Lines even formed outside the door on my visits.
A huge menu, encompassing the pizza-to-burger definition of Mexican cuisine, will please fans of La Hacienda and El Rodeo. Puffy flour tortilla tacos that were stuffed with seasoned ground beef provided a classic Des Moines comfort food. Service was pushy with “Ready for another drink?” calls on a quick trigger.
In the former Cecil & Rosie’s Diner on Merle Hay, a different kind of Mexican restaurant operates a la manana style. My cheery waitress at Sabor Latino (SL) never delivered more than one dish at a time and never in any discernible order. “Beans” were French fries unless I complained. SL’s specialty is chicken a la parilla — grilled birds, golden skinned without a single singe mark. On my whole bird dinner, the breast meat was predictably overcooked. Chile rellenos delivered stem-free poblanos stuffed with Cotijo cheese and covered with another cheese. Ceviche was a hybrid shrimp cocktail with seafood and limejuice lost in a tomato liquid. “Juices” were delicious blends of milk, juice and sugar. Prices were sensational, with a whole chicken, beans, rice, guacamole and salad for under $10.
Hector Otanez’s Taqueria Sonora (TS) is the sixth restaurant, and the second Mexican restaurant, to take over The Nosh’s space in West Des Moines. The name might be deceiving. The menu was more what one expects from Michoacan/Aquacalientes/Jalisco restaurants that have dominated independent Mexican start-ups in central Iowa the last 20 years rather than the Sonora style that crept into American diets through Arizona several decades earlier. TS also seemed to be a work in progress. Half the things on the menu were not available, and Otanez talked as much about what he’s going to have (a complete seafood menu and a full bar) than what he already had. I enjoyed some good double tortilla tacos (burritos, quesadillas, tortas and tostadas also available) of tongue, beef cheeks, beef birria, chorizo and pastor. Free Internet and a really good condiment platter of salsas, picos, cilantro and onions made this my favorite of the three new places.
The Mexican king of the late night, El Rey Burrito, is losing its lease and looking for a new venue… Jason Volgelgesang of Splash became Iowa’s first certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers… Godfather’s in Ankeny and Urbandale debuted gluten-free pizza. CV
Caption: A grilled chicken dinner at Sabor Latino, 2926 Merle Hay Rd., 274-1527. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., daily.
Raul’s Mexican Restaurant, 1261 8th St., West Des Moines, 422-7802. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Taqueria Sonora, 800 First St., West Des Moines, 277-7071. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 3 a.m., Friday and Saturday.