Andreas 3 and Fernando’s add to Mexican scene9/4/2013
Mexican restaurants cluster in Des Moines. In the early to mid 20th century, Valley Junction was synonymous with Mexican food. Around the end of the last century, a six-block stretch of East Grand and Hubble avenues housed more superb Latino cafés than the rest of the metro combined. Before the city clamped down on taco trucks, they covered East 14th Street more thoroughly than any other part of town. The latest concentrations of good Mexican offerings have solidified along a Grand Avenue/Eighth Street T in eastern West Des Moines and the Drake area. The ranks of both grew recently with the additions of Tacos Andreas 3 to the former and Fernando’s to the latter.
Andreas began in 2007 in a sit-down café so small its address (2225½ University Ave.) is fractionalized. That original store built its brand on tacos, tortas, gorditas and pupusas, offering exotics like tongue, cheeks and homemade chorizo as well as asada and pastor. With only four small tables and a challenged air conditioning system, few customers lingered there. Andreas’ new store in West Des Moines is about as different as anything could be. Originally built by Jimmy Lynch for Cabo San Lucas, it’s a handsome, stylish Spanish Colonial building. Patio furniture is as nice as any in town. Interior design was originally built to Lynch’s specifications by Sticks, with multicolored hand-painted tables, a Cabo Man sculpture and shadow boxes on the walls. That décor served Cabo and later Garcia’s of Scottsdale well. Since then the Mexican look has been sentenced to exile in sushi, barbecue and American bistro cafés. Those magnificent tables were painted black, and the shadow boxes were thrown away. Cabo Man is gone, too. But, happily, Andreas returns the rightful ambiance to the venue.
A handsome full bar entices guests with seven tap beers, top-shelf liquors and bargain prices. One day’s special included $1.50 pints of draft beer. Sixteen-ounce margaritas were offered daily for $4.25. T-bone steak dinners cost just $13. An eight-page menu looked more like Monterrey’s or El Rodeo’s than it did that of the original Andreas. Bargains like large $6 lunch combos and $5 kids meals abounded. All meals began with complimentary chips and salsas, of which a bean and chile dip starred. Fajitas sizzled on a hot plate, as did salad. Enchiladas poblanos were stuffed with real cheese and covered with shredded pork. Rellenos came with real cheese and stem-on poblanos. Carnitas brought lean cuts of pork tip, some tender and some too crunchy to chew.
The stars to my taste buds were tongue-and-cheeks tacos and gorditas. Like the bean dip, they are survivors from the original store. Pupusas didn’t make it. I was told they had been on the menu for several weeks, but no one ever ordered one in West Des Moines.
Back in Dogtown, Fernando’s brings a new take on the Chipotle experience, the most emulated food concept this side of fro-yo. In a cafeteria-style line, customers constructed their own burrito, torta, bowl, quesadilla, taco or salad with chicken, asada, tofu, grilled vegetables and smoked beef. Meat was halal. All starches, even the tortas, were made in house. Homemade salsas were excellent, but no condiment table was offered. One needed to wait in line to ask for a refill. An order of chilies rellenos stylishly presented stem-off poblanos stuffed with real cheese, battered in a phyllo-like dough, deep fried and sliced into pieces.
Side Dishes Simon Goheen (Simon’s), Mike McCoy and Mick Grossman bought TR’s Sports Bar and Grille and renamed it University Tap. A remodeled kitchen should be open by press time… Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse will anchor the new Prairie Crossing development in Altoona. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.