Thursday, November 30, 2006

A mere pony ride at El Rodeo

El Rodeo, at the corner of Chamberlain and Hillsborough streets, used to be my favorite Mexican restaurant. The wait staff was friendly. The chips and salsa were almost too good; it was easy to fill up on them before the meal. The chicken enchiladas tasted fresh and moist, and the rice was just spicy enough and very tender.
What happened? The place closed down after a fire, and when it reopened, the superb cook and familiar, smiling faces of the usual waiters were gone. I guess everyone moved on to other jobs.
On a recent Monday night the place was crowded, but my group was seated after a few moments. The best part of the dining experience was that the waiter was prompt with menus, water, chips and salsa. The worst part? The black beans tasted like grainy pellets of pure salt. Running a close second to worst was the basket of brown, overcooked chips. At least we weren’t already full when our dinner arrived. Not that it mattered much, because the best of the food was mediocre. Besides the black beans, my plate held mildly flavorful rice, a rubbery chicken enchilada and a decent spinach enchilada. The sauce was O.K.
The prices were just a little steeper than I’d remembered but still reasonable—or would be if the food tasted better. The average meal was about $7.00. A separate dessert menu offered fried ice cream for $3.25, plus cheesecake chimichanga and flan, but we’d had enough.
While we waited for the waiter to return with our check, I looked at the specialty drink menu. “Best Margaritas in Town” it claimed. That must be why the place was crowded. A “Regular” costs $7.25, and “Top Shelf” is $7.75. I wondered what difference 50 cents would make. Maybe I’ll return sometime and check it out—and then go somewhere else to eat. LJB


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