With seemingly little fanfare, the revolving door of the Peter Harris Plaza on Route 7 in Latham now sports a Mexican restaurant at its far west end. And it’s pretty good. And a very welcome bit of variety for the area (anyone else find it pretty troubling how little you hear about Mexican Radio in Schenectady? Not a good sign, I think). Please note that this review is a bit incomplete, a second visit will be needed to flesh it out.
We recently stopped by on a bit of a whim after seeing that they were open (we’d seen some ‘coming soon’ signs previously). On entering you first notice that the place looks great. There are some nice interior photos on their Facebook page. Nice colors, nice new booths, big long bar with about a dozen stools along one side. They really did a great job making this space look great. I particularly liked the lampshades over the larger booths. If you go, don’t forget to look up, I thought they were really neat.
Perhaps as a result of it being summer, a bit late, and what seemed like a pretty soft open, it wasn’t too busy, although many tables were in use when we got there, but they sort of emptied out as we ate. Everybody was nice and welcoming and attentive (except when we finished and had to wait a while to get a box and our bill – but as we were the only ones there they get the benefit of the doubt this time). Drinks came quick. Pepsi products and a full bar, four beers on tap – Blue Moon, Pacifico, Coors Light (?), and Dos Equis.
The menu is fairly tight, only a couple of pages, but a lot of pretty standard Mexican fare. They do seem to really highlight the fact that they have vegetarian options. Price-wise, it falls just north of what I expected, but isn’t really expensive. Given that there’s not a ton of tables, they need to make a bit more per cover, I suspect. The quantity of food as well as the quality seem to pretty much match the price-point.
The veggies all seemed really fresh and we got a lot of them with our entrees – one order each of vegetable and steak fajitas. They were grilled spot-on. Everything came super fast in that way that some Mexican restaurants have (of prepping orders for reheat before service). They both came with the typical 3 warm flour tortillas and a plate containing lettuce, some shredded cheese, “fried” beans (typical refried beans, seemingly), a half-slice of tomato, sour cream, guac, and Mexican rice. OK, let’s get into it…
The refried beans were pretty typical, I liked them, but wished the serving was a bit larger and they were a bit warmer.
The rice was decent although awfully bland. It contained some corn and peas. They really seem to be reaching for “inoffensive” here and we both wished they had been a little bolder and spiced the rice up a bit. Just really bland.
There was enough lettuce and sour cream as well as meat and veggies from the skillet for your 3 tortillas. Actually, more than enough meat and veggies. But there was barely any cheese, if you could separate the thick shreds of cheese from the shredded lettuce, there was maybe enough for one fajita. I used the blob of melted cheese over the beans for a second one. The lettuce was crisp and fresh, the cheese tasted good, sour cream was fine. Neither of us care for guacamole, so I can’t comment on that.
Where my meal totally crashed and burned, though, was the steak. If they’re trying to keep the cost to $12 by using cheap meat, then I suggest they seriously rethink that. I’d pay a buck or two more for better meat. But here’s a much better idea for the “tender” meat described on the menu – MARINADE. I’m not kidding when I say the steak had ZERO flavor. Not even salt and/or pepper. Nothing. And it was so tough that I literally could not bite though a strip in my fajita, with each bite that contained steak I was forced to pull out the meat with the bite and try to chew it all up. It was ridiculous. Marinating the meat would be cheap, tenderize tougher cuts of meat, and add flavor. This steak could use all of those things. Simply marinating this steak for a day in advance with some Mexican flavors would have taken my meal from a 4 to about an 8. No fooling, my jaw was tired when we left. That was my biggest gripe of the whole meal, but it’s a pretty big one.
There were a few things here and there that screamed “shake down period” that we’re hoping will work themselves out. Despite our complaints, which weren’t many, we both agreed that we were happy enough with the experience (and the potential for variety) to go back and try some other items on the menu that look good. We’ll definitely give them a second chance. If you want to give them a shot, I say ‘go for it’, but be aware that this place is newly opened and sort of feels that way. But it looks great and they seem to be on the right track. Kick up the flavors about 150% and we’d be thrilled to go there once a month or so, easily.
(follow up visit reviewed here: Back to El Charro in Latham)
El Charro Mexican Grill, 952 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham