Service stars at Cinco de Mayo West12/11/2013
American ingenuity was characterized in the 20th century by the inventions of templates that could be tweaked and applied successfully by competitors. From assembly-line construction to open-sourced software, success was untied from proprietary exclusivity. To the surprise of many economists, a rising tide raised all ships. Similarly, restaurant templates created large numbers of independent businesses that served nearly identical menus. The menu of the short order grill, which developed simultaneously with assembly-line construction, invariably offered eggs, toast, pancakes, and bacon, sausage or ham. South of the Ohio River, grits were included; north of there, hash-browned potatoes. The mid-century fast food industry featured similar menu sameness — burgers, fries, shakes and soft drinks — during its first three decades.
A newer menu template developed late in the century for successful suburban Mexican cafés in the U.S. Its main features were huge in size (eight pages or more), frozen margarita bars and the use of mild sauces, oozy cheeses and loose meat hamburger or pulled chicken en lieu of inner city favorites such as tongue, cheek, chorizo and adobo. It differed little between one Des Moines suburb and another, or from suburbs of Minneapolis, Omaha or Kansas City.
Its track record is superb. In Des Moines these cafés consistently succeed, even at addresses with poor track records. After visiting a new such café on E.P. True Parkway, I suspect that will be the case with Cinco de Mayo West. The restaurant’s tagline mentions “the best service.” On my visits, that was no idle boast. Once while trying to read and drink at the same time, I set my 32-ounce glass down on the edge of a plate, spilling it all over the table and floor. Instantly two workers appeared and cleaned up everything in seconds. That attention made me mindful of how well-kept the café was. Its bathrooms were cleaner than booths were at another suburban joint I reviewed last year. On all of my visits, water or tea glasses were refilled, and with fresh ice, before they were empty, and someone checked soon after serving our orders to make sure everything was satisfactory. Specialty salsas were cheerfully substituted for the mild house salsa that is delivered with complimentary chips. Servers were genuinely friendly.
Beside the service was the price. Cinco de Mayo West is a bargain. Margaritas were offered for as little as $1.50 during a special. Two entrée combos with beans and rice cost $8, even less at lunch. Steak Carretero delivered a T-bone steak, six shrimp, grilled onions and peppers with beans and rice for $14. One dollar more buys the most expensive item on the menu, a house parillada of grilled steak, chicken breast, pork chop, chorizo and cactus, with avocado and tomato salad, beans, rice and choice of tortillas. Combinations of beef, pork, seafood and chicken were plentiful here.
Basic dishes were typical of this genre. Chile rellenos delivered stem-on poblano chilies fried in egg batter and stuffed with cheese that oozed completely out of the chile when cut. Its sauce was indistinguishable from other red sauces on other dishes (enchiladas, tamales), served at just about every such café in town. Guacamole was fresh; lettuces were cold. My favorite dish was carnitas, which delivered chunks of super tender, slow-cooked pork shoulder that had been finished with a crisping. Flan was served with a pile of whipped cream and drizzles of chocolate that overwhelmed the caramel. I might have complained, but I was afraid my server would insist on replacing it.
Bottom line: Top service distinguishes Cinco de Mayo West from dozens of other places with similar menus.
Side Dishes Grand opening will be Dec. 12 for a new Aldi on Mills Civic Parkway, with sweepstakes and lots of product sampling… Iowa State University’s 49th Annual Madrigal Dinners commence Jan. 17-18, $40, 515-294-8349. CV