Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Twelve Things About Sinclair’s

While it’s true in some senses that it’s easier to write what you know well, it’s also true that familiarity with a place makes it tough to offer a review that reads as credible to an outsider looking for a fairly objective snapshot of a place. As such, it’s hard to write about Sinclair’s, the cornerstone neighborhood restaurant of our part of town. We’ve been fairly regular there since moving to Montgomery a few years ago and that alone ought to tell you that it’s good enough to keep bringing us back.

And as with any place you’ve been countless times, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and pretty much ordered most of the things on the menu (well, most of the things that can be eaten by vegetarians who occasionally make exceptions for seafood). As such, there is no one prototypical meal for us at Sinclair’s. We’ll recount for you some facts you ought to know, and present them in list form for your convenience. And if you don’t want to read the list, the bottom line is this: It’s a great restaurant and you should eat there.

1. Outside seating: We have noted before that it’s a crying shame that our town lacks sufficient outdoor dining areas. It’s the South. We need chairs and patios in order to function as a decent society. There’s good enough weather here in this particular part of the world that, properly equipped with a few tables and umbrellas, we ought to be able to eat outdoors. Sinclair’s understands this. Best patio in town.
2. Full bar and strong drinks: These folks have a solid, if not flashy, bar and know how to mix drinks. You can sit inside or on the aforementioned patio, but we appreciate their ability to make drinks properly the first time and serve them in nice glasses. This all dovetails with the fact that there’s a movie theater next door, meaning you can have a great meal, have a few drinks, and walk over to the movie (or sit and discuss the movie after the fact).
3. No smoking: One of the downsides of many bars is the smoke haze. It’s nice to not leave Sinclair’s smelling like there’s some kind of film clinging to you, thinking that you need a bath.
4. Trivia: There really aren’t all that many places in town that do the trivia box competitive networked trivia game. Sinclair’s has it, along with the associated crew of eccentrics who take it super seriously. We love trivia. We are glad they pay for this service.
5. Good ambiance: It’s just a nice place to chill. It’s sort of formal, but you don’t feel awkward for sporting a t-shirt or shorts. It’s formal enough for legislators to make regular appearances, but informal enough that you can rip through a bunch of cranberry vodkas and not feel like you’re going to draw ugly looks. There usually aren’t a bunch of kids running around. The restrooms are snappy, the art is good, and it’s all around a nice place — the sort of place where you could bring a date or out-of-town friends, but also feel comfortable as a neighborhood regular just in for a meal or a night out of the house. They even do something in the men’s room certain to confuse future generations of “smart phone” users: They hang the sports page over the urinals. And the women’s restroom has a couch!
6. Fried foods: There’s trashy fried food in the world that leaves you feeling greasy and then there’s Sinclair’s fried brie wedges and simply otherworldly onion rings. Healthy? No. Fantastic? Absolutely. And atop the Sinclair’s pyramid of fried goodness must be the artichoke hearts, which we can’t do every time, but on those special occasions, are truly a delicacy of the highest order. The dipping sauce is creamy and the fried hearts are rich and, at the risk of overusing a foodie word, decadent.

Brie wedges

7. Brunch: Not to overplay the “Why doesn’t everyone have this?” angle, but it’s baffling that more places don’t have tasty brunch. Sinclair’s has it right, with multiple options for your eggs, amazing potato compliments, and quality mimosas served in good potency and quantity. Not something we can afford to do every weekend in this economy, but a fantastic benefit to be able to go there whenever we can make it work. Ask your server about the difference between Eggs Sardou and Eggs Soho. We always forget. Also, if you like crab, order the crabbie eggs. Nothing confusing there.
8. Smoked trout: The best thing on the appetizer list. There’s a photo below, but the texture of the fish is great and the combo of the capers and the cucumbers with the creamy sauce, well, it’s filling but not a tasty throwaway like so many other appetizers. It’s fresh-tasting and should be considered among the best appetizers in the city.

The trout

9. Spa salad: The go-to item when you’re not sure what else to get, this is truly an admirable baseline for the menu. It’s big, hearty, fresh and consists of greens, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, red pepper, purple onion, artichoke hearts (not fried), and hearts of palm. At $8, it’s a bargain and a great meal.
10. Unsweet tea: Why doesn’t Sinclair’s have sweet tea? It might have something to do with the restaurant once being a Sinclair Oil gas station. They offer you sugar packets, as if you weren’t from the South and hadn’t looked with contempt at some other servers across the country when they tried to equate the granular mess made with packet and spoon to the ambrosia of actual Southern sweet tea. Why? Why? Damn you, Sinclair’s. I guess I’ll have a Coke instead.
11. Veggie burgers: We might go out on a limb and say that they’re the best in the city. The great thing is that they are willing to make them up like the many kinds of regular burgers they offer: with Swiss, peppers on it, mushrooms, etc. These people “get it.” A veggie burger is not meant to be some kind of health treat like a rice cake. And we can tell if you keep a box of Boca burgers in the freezer and thaw one out when the rare vegetarian stumbles along. Sinclair’s doesn’t do that. They create a big and tasty patty on good bread.
12. Good service: A recent trip had the server offering thoughtful suggestions on a couple of menu items, all of which turned out to be spot-on accurate. Drink glasses are rarely empty and most times you get the thing that you ordered. And if there is a mistake or a mix-up, they’re really cool about it. They’re friendly, laid back, and seem to genuinely want you to have a good meal. And that stands out and really makes you want to go back. Again, that’s the kind of thing that’s easy to say if you’re regulars and get good treatment from friends, but really, we’re not. Although we mentioned above that it’s hard to write a review of a place you know well, it’s also not like we are daily visitors. We just make frequent enough visits that we know we’re going to get good food in a good atmosphere at a good price and we want to make extra sure that we aren’t taking a neighborhood institution for granted.

Shirmp Po Boy: A little too much bread, excessive sour cream on the potato.

The fantastic Spa Salad

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Martin’s Restaurant

Sometimes on the way back from New Orleans, we stop at a little gas station just across the bridge to fill up for the trip to Montgomery and stock up on Hubig’s Pies. For years we have considered these delightful snacks to be the apex of the fried pie arts. And then we tried the fried pies at Martin’s Restaurant. We stand corrected. We’ll still stop and get Hubig’s whenever we can, and even seriously consider ordering them from the Internet, but they’re not even in the same category as Martin’s fried pies.

Getting your fried pie can require a bit of experimentation. They take some time to make – we were told to order them at least 15 minutes in advance – so it is best to request them when you order your meal. Sometimes they run out of the advertised flavors of the day. Other times they just don’t have them. Fried pies aren’t on the regular Martin’s dessert menu, so you have to ask. But when you sink into its flaky crust, lemon glaze, warm filling, it’ll all be worth it. Everything in your life up to that point will have been worth it.

Not that the other desserts are bad. On the contrary, they are both gigantic (prepare yourself for the slice of chocolate pie as large as your head) and delightful.

It’s just that in a place that’s famous for its fried chicken (and in case you didn’t know they were known for fried chicken, several dozen plaques advertising it adorn the wall above the cash register), you might expect that everything else on the menu will play second fiddle.

Not so at Martin’s. You start with the cornbread, which is dense and sweet with an intense butter flavor. The fried fish is fantastic, salty and light with just the right breading. And the vegetables are well worth a starring role in a plate of sides. They rotate from day to day — and of course some offerings are more appetizing than others (we are not fans of “congealed salad,” for example), but the tomato and okra is great, the fried okra is uniformly perfect, and they have macaroni and cheese that is actually made with cheese.

Recently we played host to a visiting musician friend from Athens. We wanted to show off the town a little bit, so we took him to the strip mall that is home to Martin’s. He pronounced the chicken “delicious” and swooned over the fried pie. We were so proud you would have thought we cooked the meal ourselves.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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India Palace

By Stephen and Kate

We love Indian food. We love the differences in cuisine from region to region — even as we love the more Americanized versions of standard Indian dishes that you see on buffets from here to Seattle. But we didn’t always love it. We, like many other people not from South Asia, were once flummoxed by a buffet full of foreign dishes and a menu full of bewildering choices. We couldn’t tell a chapati from a pakora from a thali. All we once knew about Indian food was that it was probably spicy. And some of it is. But some isn’t.

So, curious by nature and interested in eating tasty things, we dug in and have been pleased to learn about Indian food over the years – even branching out to making it ourselves.

India Palace (3007-H McGehee Road) is Montgomery’s only Indian restaurant. Birmingham boasts some really good Indian food (e.g., Silver Coin, Taj India), but the cuisine is still something relatively new to many Montgomery residents. India Palace offers a lunch buffet every day (except Monday, when they, like many Montgomery restaurants are closed) as well as menu-based dinner service. We’ve had dinner there before, but recommend the buffet for folks who are still figuring out what they like to eat. We’re pretty confident that armed with a little knowledge everyone can have a great dining experience at India Palace or (most) any other Indian restaurant. So, a few useful items to consider:

Bread and Rice – Indian food is typically served with bread. It’s really good. The various flatbreads will help you dip up mouthfuls of food or get the last bit of delicious sauce, and they are wonderful in their own right. The most common is naan (pronounced “non”), which can sometimes be ordered as garlic naan (that’s our favorite). You might also try roti, made with whole wheat flour but similar to naan. Its cousin paratha is a layered whole wheat bread sometimes served stuffed with delicious goodies. On the buffet, you’ll always see rice. That’s good for soaking up sauces. You’ll want to make a little pile of rice and then scoop some of the other stuff onto it. Rice may be called “basmati.” That’s a particular variety of long grained rice esteemed for its delicate flavor.

Curry – Most people believe that when something is called a curry, that means it is spicy. Actually, the word curry refers to the sauce or gravy that food is cooked in, rather than to any particular spice mixture. That’s why a curry you order in a Thai restaurant doesn’t taste anything like a curry you get in an Indian restaurant, and both are light years from the thick brown stuff the Japanese call curry. Some places (more Thai than Indian) will divide up their kinds of curries by color: red (made with a red chili powder), yellow (again the tumeric), and green (green chili and lime).

There are a variety of sauces used in the kinds of Indian food you’re likely to encounter in the average buffet – the chicken curry probably has an onion and tomato sauce, made yellow by liberal addition of tumeric, while the vegetable korma likely has a more creamy sauce that might be made with yogurt. In any case, the food on the buffet will not be spicy. When ordering off the menu, you can ask them to make it as spicy as you wish.

Chutney – Indian meals typically include a variety of small sides and sauces known as chutneys. These are basically jams or pickles that can be sweet, savory, or spicy. The green stuff is usually mint chutney. It’s really good on samosas, fried pastries with potato and vegetable filling. You might also be offered a tamarind sauce for some dipping. Tamarind is a sweet-tart fruit also used in a lot of Thai cuisine, and it’s delicious for dunking pakoras, deep-fried vegetable fritters that are especially abundant and delicious on the India Palace buffet. Next to the chutneys on the buffet you’ll see a big bowl of raita. This is a delicious cooling cucumber-yogurt sauce that is wonderful with spicier foods. Don’t mistake it for the sweet rice pudding next to it – this is called kheer, and it’s really good. If you’re mostly experienced with Western cakes and cookies for dessert, try something new and check this out.

Tandoor – A good bit of Indian cooking is done in a tandoor – basically a super-hot clay oven. You might try the tandoori chicken or lamb. Meats are usually kept moist in the tandoor by being rubbed with a yogurt-based sauce first. Naan and some other breads are also cooked in the tandoor, whose high temperature helps them puff and crisp – it’s really hard to replicate these results at home.

Dal – Usually the buffet will have some kind of dal. This is basically a lentil stew that most people eat over rice. There are several kinds of lentils, and this will determine the color of the dal you’re served. There are a number of delicious soups common to Indian restaurants – try the mulligatawny for something delicious and different. At India Palace, it’s vegetarian – an added bonus.

Indian food may or may not be influenced by the period of brutal British colonial rule. It is almost always a good genre of food for vegetarians and may or may not be healthy, per se. Like any nationality, you’ve got a wide variety of methods for cooking, which can range from frying things to baking them. Also, depending on the restaurant you’re at, they may have a great variety of items on the menu — more than just lentils and rice, obviously. Some of our favorite Indian dishes have involved eggplant and items familiar to Southerners, such as okra.

When starting out, especially if buffet ordering, try to keep things separate on your plate (the liquid sauces can run together if you’re not careful) — at least until you can figure out what you like. Once you get the hang of it, the various foods are actually pretty tasty when put together. Among our favorites are aloo gobi (which is cauliflower with potato) and saag paneer (which is a spinach dish with cubes of a unique kind of cheese in it). Meat-eating friends might suggest starting with tandoori chicken or the chicken tikka masala.

Indian food primer aside, the food at India Palace is pretty good. Located in a strip mall near a sadly-closed Halal grocery store and a sadly-closed book store (“The Book Nook”), between a hair place and a seller of braids and extensions, the Palace is the only game in town. The people that work there are super nice and the atmosphere is spare but not unpleasant. It’s quite affordable at lunch ($10-$15 for buffet and drink) and certainly suggested whether you are new to the universe of Indian food or a seasoned vet.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Shashy’s

By Stephen and Kate

Shashy’s Bakery and Fine Foods, over on Mulberry Street across from the bridge club and gun shop, is the kind of place you’d take an out of town visitor before they went home. A fantastic brunch just seems like the right way to put a loved one on the road, fond memories of Montgomery in their head and tasty brunch foods in their stomach.

It’s also the kind of place you’d go for a leisurely lunch with good friends during the work day. It’s the kind of place where you can stop in and get a fresh baked loaf of bread, a pie, or just a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth. It is also (and perhaps most importantly) a place where every booth has its own personal chandelier and they know better than to dye the key lime pie some horrible shade of fake green.

This is a place where you want to be exchanging money for food.

It’s a simple pattern: Every time we eat at Shashy’s we try to figure out why we don’t eat there more often. Their breakfast-to-brunch menu is outstanding, they have lots of healthy vegetarian and fish-based options and the fried green tomatoes are delightful. In addition to their regular lunch menu, they offer rotating daily specials. On a recent visit, we had the veggie plate made with vegetables from the curbside Farmer’s Market right here in town: squash, black-eyed peas, green beans and cornbread. We added catfish (it came with what might be, seriously, a Platonic-type ideal of tartar sauce) to make the plate almost $12. We also got the salmon salad, which was a fillet perched on a big green salad with almonds and goat cheese (also about $12).

The salmon salad was bigger and better than the similar entree at Cool Beans. The fish combined with the salad to taste fresh and light, and the goat cheese made the meal seem luxurious and fancy somehow, but not at all pretentious.

The catfish was quite good, but had two marks against it. First, there seemed to be an equal ratio of fried batter to actual fish. The batter was good (light and flaky, but it added more bulk to the cut of fish than was needed. Secondly, for a $12 plate, you kind of felt like you should have gotten another piece of fish. The meal was filling, but that had more to do with the fist-sized wedge of cornbread than the other items.

The green beans had chunks of ham in them, which used to be something we would overlook as a regional fact of life when living in the South. However, when we realized that even a down-home and country place like Martin’s could take the time to put an asterisk on the menu next to the veggies that were prepared with meat, we realized that it’s really not all that much of an effort to make to at least inform diners that they may have to compromise on their ethics (or religious convictions) if they want to order certain dishes.

There was a sign in the bakery counter display case that said “OMG Best Key Lime Pie Ever.” We had a slice and it at least deserved the OMG. As noted, this is not some food-coloring slab of tourist sugar sold at some Jimmy Buffet-themed beach trap. This is the real deal. It’s lime-infused, super tart, sweet, and comes shrouded in a crust that is criminally absent from the Department of Tourism’s highly-debatable List of 100 Alabama Things to Eat Before You Die.

The service is great. The servers know their sections, and breeze in to refill your tea without pestering you about your satisfaction levels with your current cup contents. The use of different colored glasses for sweet and unsweet tea makes this a simple task and their professionalism and attention was appreciated.

The decor is artful without being flashy. The wealth of natural sunlight is a particularly rare treasure, particularly (for some reason) in Montgomery, where people seem to associate darkness with elegance. It’s also a functional place, housing a hidden bakery from which are produced many coveted treats.

And again, we left lunch saying, “Why don’t we go here more often?”

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Sal’s Pizzeria

By Kate and Stephen

Outside Sals' on a Friday night

Zelda Road is a weird place. Named for Montgomery’s own Zelda Fitzgerald (neé Sayre), it’s home to Midtown’s only Waffle House. Which restaurant is basically your only eating option in Midtown if you’re up late. It is near the should-be-prosaic intersection of Zelda Road and F. Scott Court, where there is a fast food chain restaurant selling tiny hamburgers — but no monument to the famous literary couple’s troubled romance.

In Zelda’s short stretch you can sample a full spectrum of Montgomery’s food offerings  – everything from local, seasonal gourmet meals (Michael’s Table) to the simple, vaguely gross pleasures of eating at (or food from) a Taco Bell. And now Zelda is home to a new sitdown place — Sal’s Pizzeria, a dimly-lit, semi-formal place.

We hit Sal’s on a Friday night and were happy there was only a short wait, which some members of our party spent playing a stand-up arcade-style driving game called Cruisin’. This was just as well, because one of our only quibbles with Sal’s is that there’s not a good place to wait for a table. And you might wait a good long while (as we did on our first attempt to eat lunch there), because a) there aren’t that many tables and b) the food is really good, so people are likely to take their time. As such, you’re likely to stand in a cramped little hallway area for a while, hoping that tables will turn over.

We ordered pizza, of course – since the restaurant’s name coyly suggests that pizza might be “Sal’s” specialty. We’re already on the record for loving Tomatino’s, and we’ll confess that SaZa has good pizza too. Adding Sal’s to the mix has got to put Montgomery over the edge for one of the great cities in the South. What other town our size has this many outstanding places to get a perfectly crisp-soft crust with locally-sourced toppings and just the right sauce-cheese balance? Our Sienna (eggplant, roasted bell pepper, broccolini, olives and mozzarella – $17 for a large) was great, even if we were left wanting more broccolini. Even with three of us eating, we were still left with ample leftovers.

Maybe that was because we filled up on the cheesebread (frankly, a small cheese and garlic pizza – $5.50) and Olio Misto (the best olive appetizer in town [with apologies to El Rey’s], it’s succulent and garlicky and a bargain at $4). Or the leftovers may have stemmed from the fact that we saved room at the end because we were eagerly anticipating our Strawberry Cake milkshake ($5.50). It’s thick and sweet enough to tide you over till Nancy Patterson’s restaurant (whose legendary cake is a key ingredient of the milkshake) re-opens. The milkshake quickly catapulted onto our list of Montgomery’s best desserts.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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El Rey Burrito Lounge

By Kate and Stephen

We love El Rey (1031 E. Fairview Ave).

We love the giant just-salty-enough bowls of guacamole, the tremendous array of vegetarian options, and the thoughtful attention to buying local and sustainable produce, meats, and seafood. Also there’s the massive beer list (though we’re not big high gravity beer snobs), the delicious sangria, and the margaritas that taste like actual drinks with alcohol in them.

We love that they put on special events, often involving delicious vegetarian “sausages” or migas or special and exotic beers for tasting. There’s ample outdoor seating, either on the Fairview-side patios or on the shady western veranda. Get a Pimm’s Cup and a portion of queso for dipping while you wait for the tempeh fajitas or the spinach and red onion enchiladas to arrive. Chances are you’ll see people you know walking by on the street. Or you can sit inside in a plush red booth, drinking your glass of wine in the dim, lush and just a little bit seedy ambiance as you await the arrival of some genuinely hot salsa and a massive burrito.

So, we love all of it from the big-city menu options to the small-town feel. What we don’t love as much is the price. Every time we go to El Rey we end up with a bill that hovers around $60. And that’s with one drink each (the cheaper ones, not the $7 glasses of wine or the high end $14 beers), one appetizer and two entrees. Not exactly a major feast (though we never leave hungry and usually leave with leftovers). Perhaps this is a small price to pay to eat at what we think is Montgomery’s best restaurant. And maybe it’s a small price to pay for what El Rey adds to Midtown – in summer, a touch of jasmine-scented, back-beat infused, locally grown food cooked with soul; in winter, a cozy bowl of soup and a spicy reminder that there’s no need for feuding between your conscience and your tastebuds.

Because we love it, we go as often as our modest incomes will allow. We’ve eaten just about everything on the menu (that is, everything that’s vegetarian or seafood-focused). Special accolades go to the olives ($3.50) served as an appetizer. It’s surprisingly hard to get good olives in this town, and the harissa served as a dipping sauce is a masterful decision. We also love the enchiladas. Of the burritos, we generally prefer the Cali (beans, veggies, and spinach) with tempeh added, but sometimes we do find it hard to conscience paying more than ten bucks for a burrito we can make at home for a few dollars. Still, they are darn good. The spinach salad with tempeh makes a great dinner on a hot day, but we’re not fully sold on their chipotle lime vinaigrette. Last time it was a fraction too oily for our taste.

El Rey has recently changed its menu (see it here), and this prompted us to try the grilled fish platter on a recent visit. It was spectacular. It might be the single best dish we’ve ordered at any restaurant in the Montgomery area, rivaling similar dishes we’ve eaten at places around the country (like Santa Monica’s Border Grill). The fish was grilled perfectly, reaching a spicy food nirvana when paired with any of the various relishes dotted around the plate. The black beans were smoky, the roasted sweet potatoes were just browned around the edges hinting of chili and salt, and there was enough left over for a great lunch the next day. It was a seafood kind of night – we also had a shrimp taco, which probably wasn’t made with Gulf shrimp (that day El Rey’s newsletter had told us that they were switching to other sources for shrimp) but was still mouth-watering.

We’ve only lived in Montgomery for less than two years, but already we see El Rey as an old friend. The prices are high, but it cannot be denied that you’re paying for the highest in quality. We frequently loathe corporations, but readily signed up to be on El Rey’s e-mail list-serv. They are great corporate citizens, providing updates to customers on the effects of the Gulf oil spill on their access to seafood, while encouraging people to use the city-sponsored entertainment mass transit options. They are the only place in town we have ever seen that tries to promote food artisans and local brewers, while keeping festivals fun. They maintain a hip edge without being exclusionary and snooty. They should be a model for other restaurants around the state and nation because there are plenty of places that try to have a hip vibe and serve quality food, but just can’t seem to get it right. El Rey calls itself a “burrito lounge,” but really it’s a cornerstone of our Midtown community and we’re lucky to have them.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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La Zona Rosa – Mexican Food

By Stephen and Kate

We had blogged at our other blog about the lunch experience of La Zona Rosa.

So enthusiastic!!!

As you can read, we were not unhappy with the lunch experience, but neither were we thrilled. So after a number of crowded and stealthily-expensive lunches, we finally decided to check out dinner at La Zona Rosa (2838 Zelda Road).

As a bit of a preface, know that both of us have considerable experience with Mexican food from living in Texas, Los Angeles, and the Southwestern U.S. We aren’t snobs, but (unlike many of the Mexican places we’ve found around Alabama) we do know the difference between salsa and a flavorless tomato product resembling ketchup. And we’re immediately suspicious of any place that lists queso on the menu as “cheese dip.” And we can be very exacting about what we expect from guacamole.

All of which is to say that although we have left several lunches feeling nonplussed, we left our recent dinner quite convinced that La Zona Rosa is one of the best Mexican restaurants in town. There are a few others that enter the highly-competitive running for the title of “best in town,” but the dinner experience at La Zona really is outstanding.

There are a couple of things that set La Zona Rosa apart.

First, there are the pupusas. We thought we knew most of the main dishes in traditional American-style Tex-Mex (or even New Mexican) cooking. So we were surprised to see a menu item that was unfamiliar to us. Turns out, the pupusa is sort of an El Salvadoran version of the empanada — an item with which we are well acquainted. And that’s when you realize that there might be a little more going on at La Zona Rosa than at your typical cookie cutter Mexican place. We don’t know the owners and/or chefs, so we can’t say why there are Salvadoran foods on the menu, but one of the types of pupusas offered (as you can see for yourself on their dinner menu) is Loroco, which is evidently an edible flower (note this 1990 article from the journal, Economic Botany). We wanted this A LOT. Unfortunately, they said they didn’t have them when we ordered them. Unclear on whether their absence reflects a permanent removal from the menu, or merely a temporary shortage. Nonetheless, the bean and cheese pupusas are outstanding and highly recommended. They are doughy discs of bean and cheesy flavor.

Second, we’re talking plantains. While they are sweet enough that you might want to save them for dessert, they are also warm and hearty (without being greasy) and so good that you’ll want to eat them as a part of your main course. Two people can split an order, but you’ll feel a twinge of regret if your dining partner spears the last one on his or her fork and consumes it. They are transcendent and make the ordinary banana look like bitter mush by comparison. They come with delicious beans. Speak reverently of them. Must. Order. Plantains.

Third, there was an outstanding fish taco. Now, lots of places might have a fish taco on the menu, but instead of keeping them simple and true to their Baja style roots, too often, people will pour on a ton of condiments and flavor sauces and drown the taste of the fish in sour cream and lettuce and excess tortilla and sometimes even cheese. No, no, no. La Zona Rosa gets it right. Here, the fish taco comes out wrapped in foil and is an exercise in spartan simplicity. Open it, squeeze the lime over it, maybe a few shreds of lettuce or tomato, and you can almost imagine that you’re at the beach. The fish is seared just right. And it’s cheap. I’m getting two next time.

Fourth, there are the fajitas. Opinions were split as to whether they surpassed the high bar set by the fajitas at Los Vaqueros (which, oddly, include green beans and English peas). La Zona’s fajitas are more traditional (green peppers, onions, etc.) and come out on a sizzling platter. They aren’t greasy, come with ample tortillas, and are seasoned just right so you taste the vegetables and not the vegetable oil. There’s also enough for a full meal for two.

Fifth, we are happy to recommend the Banda Mexicana. We have never heard of this oddly-named menu item before, but we have been spoiled by the “top shelf” guacamole they make by the side of your table out at Los Cabos. We weren’t psyched to order pureed avocado mixed with sour cream, but were delighted to ravage the big bowl of avocado mixed with pico de gallo and lime juice that is the Banda Mexicana.

Sadly, the margarita we ordered was just not that good. Sure, we didn’t get the top shelf one. Which is stupid, and we know better. But this thing wasn’t strong at all and tasted of margarita mix. Not good. Lesson learned.

The whole meal was reasonably priced. The atmosphere was far from formal (any time you have gigantic flat screen TVs on the wall, you feel like the food is competing with Fox News or some sporting event) and the service was great. In a city where many people see Mexican cuisine as a sidebar to drinking on Cinqo de Mayo (or a professionalized version of “taco night” at home), La Zona Rosa is one of the gems of Midtown.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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