Cut out the middle, man

Guajillo’s offers exceptional chips, salsa, and desserts; underwhelming entrées

click to enlarge Tinga de pollo en tostadas, served hot with rice, beans, and a cold Dos Equis at Guajillo’s.
Tinga de pollo en tostadas, served hot with rice, beans, and a cold Dos Equis at Guajillo’s.
Release Date: 2008-11-12

In a city where local Mexican food joints and taquerias are located on every major street corner — most conveniently, and ironically, located next to a McDonald’s or Starbucks — Guajillo’s is doing its best to stand out.

For starters, in our tourism-friendly metropolis, where Tex-Mex is the culinary genre of choice for most out-of-towners, Guajillo’s bills itself as “The Mex, Without the Tex.” And secondly, while some local Mexican eateries stuff our fair city’s residents — and those Mexican-food-fiend tourists — with enough fat-filled grub to send Michael Phelps into cardiac arrest, Guajillo’s doesn’t add lard, grease, or any other unnecessary fats to its plethora of dining options.

Unfortunately, the food — at least Guajillo’s healthier options — suffers from this.

On a recent dinner outing to Guajillo’s, I ordered the Zucchini with Green Mole from the vegetarian menu (yes, Guajillo’s is a San Antonio-based Mexican food joint with a veggie menu, but stay with me). While the accompanying rice and beans were solid, if slightly bland, the zucchini slices were buried under a pool of watery mole sauce that eerily resembled pea soup. Looks, in this case, were not deceiving, as the runny mole also lacked flavor.

My dinner companion, meanwhile, opted for the Cheese Enmoladas (cheese-filled tortillas) covered with poblano mole sauce. Although his dish was most certainly more appetizing than mine, the cheese-filled tortillas were reduced to secondary status, thanks to a heaping helping of thick, almost chocolate-like mole sauce. The mole sauce — sweet in flavor and smooth in texture — was quite tasty, even if this particular portion could have been trimmed by half and still sufficed.

To top it all off, after an initial visit to Guajillo’s, in which we were seated, ate, and had the check within 40 minutes, this particular evening featured a near 30-minute wait for our entrées, and another 10-minute wait after asking for the check.

Fortunately, our first foray to Guajillo’s was much more fruitful. To start, we were quickly greeted with the restaurant’s chips and salsa, which unquestionably rank among the best this critic has ever tasted. The chips are thin, warm, and crispy, while the salsa — a roasted brown rather than the standard fresca red — is flavorful and spicy (but not indulgently so).

On this particular Sunday afternoon, we opted for the Tinga de Pollo con Tostadas (shredded chicken, onion, chipotle sauce, and tostada shells), which by far ranked as the best main course of those surveyed on my two Guajillo’s visits. The chicken, flavorful and juicy, worked well with the crisp tostada shells and exceptional chipotle sauce. And although Guajillo’s lacks an official children’s menu, the cheese quesadilla — good, judging from the few bites I snagged — went over well with my selective 4-year-old.

Dessert, meanwhile, was a large slice of Tres Leches Cake. The generous portion was not only topped with a succulent white cream, but was quite moist and flavor-packed. This was unquestionably the highlight of our Guajillo’s excursions.

Guajillo’s bills itself as “The Shortcut to Mexico,” and does its best to live up to that moniker. On a Sunday afternoon — in Texas, in the fall — televisions featured soccer (yes, real futbol), as opposed to the Americanized version.

And while the restaurant’s entrée options leave something to be desired, Guajillo’s chips, salsa, and dessert (including rice pudding and flan) — not to mention reasonably priced Mexican beer and spirits — make for an ideal happy-hour hotspot, if not a utopian dessert-and-alcohol-fueled nightcap.

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