As I dipped my salty tortilla chip into a bowl of fresh salsa, I had one of those " I'm- so- lucky- to- liveon- the- Central- Coast" moments.
Here I was having lunch on the patio at Mexicali Rose in downtown Pismo Beach on a sunny March afternoon while people in other parts of the country are battling icy weather and frozen roads.
Mexicali Rose is the latest restaurant to open in the tourist- happy area of downtown Pismo Beach. It sits at Dolliver Street and Pomeroy Avenue, which seems to be a location with a revolving door of ever- changing businesses. The last one was Pom & Roy's, an American- style grill. Before that, it was a simple hamburger stand.
Hopefully for new owner Lalo Cadena, the curse of the corner of Dolliver and Pomeroy left with the last eatery.
Cadena is not new to the Mexican restaurant scene. He previously had his hand in Vallarta's in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach before opening Mexicali Rose.
Busy at lunch
The casual restaurant was buzzing with customers on a recent weekday at lunchtime. The interior was pleasant and bright but a nearby outdoor patio was more inviting. While the patio could hold close to 20 patrons, small groups are recommended as the small round tables can't accommodate more than two people at each one. We had to push four together to make room for our group of six.
The menu is extensive. Its list of dishes fills up about three pages and features traditional Mexican specialties from fajitas to chiles rellenos. Shortly after arriving we were bombarded with endless baskets of fresh tortilla chips and small bowls of house-made salsa. Some might find the amount of chips and salsa a bit excessive, but we had no complaints.
The service was a bit slow, but our server's attitude and effort made up for it. She was apologetic and quickly explained that they were understaffed that day and were working to accommodate all the patrons. I can accept that. The place is new so I'm sure the quirks will work themselves out soon enough.
We started with the nachos ($8), which were a heaping pile of chips, beans, melted cheese, jalapenos, salsa and chicken (for $2 more). Despite our group's size, we made it through less than half the pile.
The entrees arrived soon after. The chili verde burrito lunch special ($7.55) included a medium-sized burrito with a side of rice and beans. The burrito appeared small next to everyone else's gargantuan portions, but the meal was just right -- spicy and satisfying.
The house-special lobster burrito ($12) was nearly three times the size of the chili verde and was listed as the 'grande' house specialty. Drenched in cheese and enchilada sauce, the burrito boasted large clumps of lobster between beans and rice. It was an impressive- looking dish and was nearly a foot long, so it made great leftovers. The lobster portions were generous, but the sauce was on the salty side.
The tostada supreme ($8) came in a fried tortilla shell filled with shredded beef, lettuce, cheese, beans and sour cream. The beef was piled in a large mound and the shell was freshly fried, adding a nice crispness to the dish.
The cheese enchilada and guacamole taco plate ($10) is served with rice and beans (like most dishes) and was covered with enchilada sauce and clumps of guacamole. A little more spice and little less salt would have made the dish just right.
Room for improvement
With a large group and an understaffed eatery we had a couple of mix-ups, which isn't bad for a new restaurant. One was a chicken taco plate, ordered with double the rice and no beans, that came out as a beef taco served with rice and beans. It was eaten anyway because I didn't want to mention it to our extremely busy server. We also had a to-go order that we asked to be served with the appetizer but it ended up being the last entree to arrive.
But despite these small complaints, I enjoyed my lunch at Mexicali Rose.
* * *
690 Dolliver St., Pismo Beach
8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
The scene: Casual Mexican restaurant in downtown Pismo
The cuisine: Traditional Mexican dishes
Expect to spend: $6 to $13 for lunch, $7 to $16 for dinner