Among the glut of fast-food joints and chain restaurants of every conceivable category littering the thoroughfares of the attractions area, there’s a smattering of mom-and-pop eateries freeing jaded locals (and quite a few perspicacious tourists) from the bonds of culinary mediocrity. Case in point: Nacho’s Grill. The outlet mall–area venue is attracting a loyal patronage for its pan-Latin delicacies, the majority of which fall in the categories of Cuban and Mexican cuisine. It may not be in the most prominent locale (look for the end unit of a small strip mall next to the Outback Steakhouse), but that just brings it all the closer to hidden-gem status.
Application of the keep-it-simple principle is always a beneficial trait, and owner Gerardo Muñoz’s uncluttered menu allows his able all-Mexican kitchen staff to execute dishes with skill and alacrity. No sooner had I ordered the maduro relleno ($4.99) than a plate of sweet caramelized plantains atop Creole-sauced ground sirloin had me chowing down. Sopa de pollo ($5.99) had all the properties of a comforting soup – invigorating broth, morsels of flaky chicken breast, potatoes, pasta, cilantro and fresh onion – it almost seemed a shame I wasn’t feeling under the weather. Also good was the empanada ($1.99); the seasoned beef turnover with a thick crust resembled a Jamaican beef patty more than it did its South American cousin. Be sure to ask for the house hot sauce made with fiery “Japanese” peppers, or so they’re known in Chihuahua.
In the “Puerto Vallarta” ($12.99), a liberal dose of that hot sauce is a must. The combo dinner comprises a gooey cheese enchilada, chicken taco and beef tostada, along with a heap of pinto beans and yellow rice flecked with corn, peas and green beans. The taco started off crispy but quickly disintegrated into a soggy mush. The tostada held up to the meaty heft and was by far the best of the three.
Miamians in town hitting the theme parks will appreciate the tang of the bistec de palomilla ($12.99), a top-round cut pounded flat, marinated in citrus and slathered with grilled onions and cilantro. The beef was juicy and tender, but finishing the immense portion tests intake abilities. No matter – take the leftovers home and make a sandwich.
The kitchen also will prepare seafood paella for two ($44.99) – just enjoy a good 20 minutes of conversation over a carafe of sangria ($22) while you wait. And you can be sure that Muñoz and his wife, Adela, will come by to tend to any needs – they’re a pleasant pair and know the importance of customer service.
Muñoz prepares the two house desserts from scratch, and while the slab of creamy tres leches ($5.99) proved too sweet for my tooth, the flan ($4.99), with plenty of sugary nectar to soak every bite, was outstanding. In fact, the custard was so completely infused with caramel that it took on a burnt orange-brown hue.
Just as colorful are the restaurant’s digs. Papaya- and teal-colored walls mix with an equally vibrant display of caricatures, celeb photographs, travel posters and some truly surreal paintings. Then again, when the food is this dreamy, that’s hardly a surprise.