I haven’t been to downtown Glendale in about, oh, 40 years. The closest I ever got was Pedro’s Mexican restaurant, which is not really in downtown, but just east of downtown. I have nothing against downtown Glendale or Glendale in general. I just figure that if I am that far west, I might as well continue on until I get to Orange County so I can see J.
But, J. was in town for the holidays, so I figured I would take J. to Glendale for dinner. The place was La Perla Mexican Restaurant right in the midst of downtown Glendale. I had heard of the place for years, but, well, it was in downtown Glendale – not a hop, skip or jump from Arcadia in East Phoenix.
Still, La Perla was attractive for several reasons, including the fact that they were open until 2 AM and served Mexican food. With that in mind, we hopped in the car and set out for Glendale. I have to admit that the town square area of downtown Glendale was quite beautiful with all of the holiday lights.
We pulled up to La Perla and had to take the side street near it to find parking. The place was jammed. We were a bit concerned at first because we noticed that the cantina section of the restaurant had a live band and people were streaming in to hear it. This was a bit daunting for our dinner plans because J. and I really didn’t want to have to scream just to hear each other. After parking the car in an auxiliary lot, we found our way to the restaurant entrance.
La Perla was set up with very two different rooms and we were at ease when we saw that the restaurant was separated from the cantina by a thick wall. We could hear the music, but were able to hear each other with normal voices. We were seated at a booth near the kitchen and only waited a few moments before our server arrived with menus and to take our drink order. We both ordered Diet Cokes ($2.25 each).
The menu had plenty of items to choose from and the usual suspects were there along with a few specialties. Our server returned with our drinks and set down a basket of chips and a caddy containing three carafes of sauce. The chips were good and fresh, but I would have liked them a bit more if they had been warmed. They also were not greasy. The first sauce I tried was pretty bland. In essence, it was a tomato puree with some salt. J. and I really didn’t like this one but I could see it being used to give some flavor enhancement for those who have trouble dealing with heat from spice. The second was a fresh and chunky salsa that had plenty of tomatoes, peppers and onions and a bit of lemon or lime for a tangy edge. The final carafe contained a spicy hot sauce that I thought was the best of the three. It had plenty of garlic and a bit of spice that sneaked up on you.
Our server returned with some waters and then proceeded to take our order. It was rather chilly out and I was craving comfort food, so I convinced J. to start with a Cheese Crisp ($4.90). This would be followed by a Chorizo Chimichanga Dinner ($11.00) Enchilada Style (add $2.00) for J. and a Mexican Combo Platter #1 ($9.00) for me.
While we waited, we discussed our holiday plans. I also noticed the interior of the restaurant. There wasn’t anything that stood out as far as decoration, save the Christmas lights that were draped around the room. The booths were comfortable and the restaurant held about 15 or so tables. The cantina, on the other hand, seemed quite large and could be another dining room for the dinner hour. We were also treated to an odd mix of music when the band suddenly went from a Tejano number to Kool and the Gang’s “Get Down On It” and then some soul number. Entertaining, but odd.
Our Cheese Crisp arrived and we were ready for it. It was a picture perfect cheese crisp with a solid cut on the pieces for easy removal from the round, tin tray. The flour tortilla was slightly thicker than the ones most restaurants use for cheese crisps, so I had a feeling it might have been made in house. The cheese was thoroughly melted and there was plenty of it. While the crisp could have been more crisp, it was quite good. The cheese had a sharp side to it that really made it stand out. I thought it paired exceptionally well with the hot sauce, while J. found the salsa a good topping for the appetizer.
We had just finished the last of the cheese crisp and the chips when our meals arrived. J.’s Chorizo Chimichanga Dinner Enchilada Style was a large platter filled with the chimi, rice and beans. The chimichanga looked very colorful with its enchilada sauce, guacamole and sour cream. J.’s said the tortilla was very crisp and crunchy and the chimi was stuffed full of chorizo. That was evident from just looking inside. The chorizo was also bold in its spiciness and had a great flavor. J. was so pleased that La Perla didn’t make the chorizo safe for many American palates as that would have marred the finished product. The rice and beans were “decent,” according to J. The chimi, though, was the clear highlight and J. struggled to finish it all because there was such a large amount of food on the plate.
My Mexican Combo Platter #1 was a mix of a tamale, a taco, an enchilada, rice and beans. I dove into the taco first. It was pretty good. I am not normally a fan of ground beef tacos, but the seasoning on the meat, including a good amount of garlic, made me forget my preference for shredded beef. The shell was also a surprise because it was thick, so it wasn’t getting soggy from the heat of the plate or the moist ground beef. The only thing I didn’t get was how La Perla had pre-sauced the taco with a bit of the tomato puree. It wasn’t bad. It was just unexpected.
The enchilada was a simple cheese and onion mixture and, like the cheese crisp, the cheese had a sharpness to it that was quite welcome. The sauce was also very good with its smoky overtones. The tamale was excellent. It was an outstanding balance between filling and masa and the shredded meat was tender and juicy. The sauce on top of it melded well with the other flavors, so I was pleased. I found the rice to be a notch above standard because of the seasoning, but I wasn’t a fan of the beans because the texture was so smooth, it reminded me of paste.
The bill for our meal was $33.81, including tax, which we both thought was a good value (not to mention that we had entertainment as well). The service was efficient and friendly, and our server was doing a great job handling quite a few tables since most of the staff was busy attending to the crowded cantina area.
We would definitely return for a meal at La Perla. Between the good food and good service, we were pleased with our experience despite the driving distance.
I was only left to wonder if I could have convinced the band to do something from the Carpenters.
La Perla Cafe
5912 West Glendale Avenue
Glendale, AZ 85301
Hours: Sunday through Thursday - 7 AM to 11 PM; Friday and Saturday - 7 AM to 2 AM
Notes: Parking is behind the building.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com