It was a workday afternoon in the great L.A. metro area and I was craving a Mexican lunch. The trick was trying to get J. to agree to going. With puppy dog eyes and that sound in my voice, I was able to get my future spouse to indulge my desire to have food from south of the border.
The problem was trying to find out where to go. On our outing to Honda-Ya, the couple at the table next to us was kind enough to offer a suggestion. The name of the place sounded familiar: El Farolito. I knew nothing about it because I am from Phoenix, and the big names here are Los Sombreros, Barrio Café, Pepes Taco Villa, Tee Pee, Manuels and a host of others.
So, I hopped on the computer and found lots of good things being said about El Farolito. I got the address, did a Google Map search and J. and I were on our way, zipping down the various highways to our luncheon.
We pulled off the freeway, went west on one street and turned south on Bradford Avenue in Placentia and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of what either was Placentias downtown area or old town area. In any event, it was filled with tiny buildings, a few churches, poor parking and lots of personal services like hair salons. We saw a sign painted on the side of a building that announced parking for El Farolito, so we took the first spot we saw and pulled in.
We followed the signs and walked about a block south before finding the restaurant. We entered and put our name on the list. I stepped outside to grab a few photos and J. called me just a minute later that our table was ready.
The interior was clean, roomy and decorated with lots of Mexican art, mostly depicting Mexican life. We were seated at a small table and reviewed our menus. The menu was fairly comprehensive with lots of selections including plenty of margaritas and the like. The problem was that J. and I didnt know where to start in our food selection.
A few minutes passed and a bus staff person brought us chips and salsa. The chips were long and narrow, but quite crunchy. I was surprised I liked them so much because I normally go for the thin, super crisp chips. J. and I both enjoyed the salsa as well. A thick, tomato-based sauce was sprinkled with fresh onion and cilantro. Between the salt from the chips and the sweetness of the tomatoes, we did enjoy the salsa and chip greatly. We only wished the chips had been hotter in temperature (hot chips plus cold salsa = heaven).
Our waiter arrived expressing his regrets for the wait and took our drink order. I decided to start my meal with a Melon Margarita ($4.15) and a Diet Coke ($1.75). J. went for and Iced Tea ($1.75). Our waiter departed because we still hadnt decided what to get.
When he returned, he gave us the margarita and our drinks. We had finally made our decision. We chose to start our meal with the Cheese Quesadilla ($2.75) followed by the Carne Asada ($7.50) for J. and the Machaca and Eggs Dinner ($7.50) for me. J. also ordered a Pork Tamale ($3.00) as a side dish and I went with a Cheese Enchilada ($2.75).
We munched on our chips and had more salsa as we tried our Melon Margarita. It was a frozen concoction of tequila and Midori liquor. Overall, it was decent. It certainly satisfied the palate, but wasnt outstanding in its field. J. had the same feeling about it. We polished it off, but wouldnt have ordered a second one.
We had only been waiting about five minutes when our Cheese Quesadilla arrived. The big, beefy tortilla stuffed with cheese had clearly been handily grilled until the tortilla was beyond golden brown. Kudos to the cook who knows to let that tortilla cook and get toasty. We each took a slice and loved it from the first bite. It was packed with cheese and it was fully melted. Combined with the salsa, it was fantastic. I am normally a Cheese Crisp fan (that is an open faced quesadilla in Arizona), but this was excellent.
We hadnt finished more than a few bites when the rest of our meal arrived. Our table was bursting at the seams with plates and we both sported big grins waiting to dig into the feast.
In order to clear some space, I decided to attack my cheese enchilada. I took a bite and was very pleased. Actually, I was very, very pleased. I would rate this as one of the best cheese enchiladas I have ever had. The corn tortilla was smooth as silk and fresh. The cheese was delicious and, in a surprising twist, the enchilada sauce had a wonderfully smoky aftertaste. I was glad I started with this.
I turned to see how J. was doing and the Carne Asada was being tackled quite well. J. said the carne asada was very good, citing the meat as tender and tasty. J. loved the onions and the bit of char on them, but had to pick off some of the sliced jalapeños as they were making the dish too spicy.
I returned to my plate and dressed my machaca and eggs with some of the salsa and got busy. The eggs were soft scrambled and the machaca meat was very moist. It also had a very good kick to it from the jalapenos that were included in the mix. The one downside was that the machaca could have used a bit more seasoning and a little less heat (spice). Other than that, I had no complaints. The beans were also great since they were cooked with lard and enhanced with a sprinkling of cheese. The rice was okay, but really lacked any substantial flavor. J. agreed with me about the rice and beans.
J. then went for the tamale. I was a bit hesitant as how it would go over because from the first bite, I could only see masa. I asked J. how it was and only got a I am sure there is pork in there somewhere comment. Fair enough. So, I waited. And I waited a bit more. The meat was found, but it was all packed into one end of the tamale and seemed to pale in comparison to the amount of masa. I would say it was a good 70/30 mix masa to filling. J. liked the taste, but I have always seen masa as an supporting actor, not the starring role.
We were stuffed by the time we finished and we asked for our check. The total for our feast was $33.03, which we thought was a bargain. The service was good, although the poor waiter was covering more than enough tables and seemed to be running ragged. Still, he did a good job of keeping up with the pace.
As we left past 2 PM, the place was still crowded with diners. J. and I walked back to our car and found that we both really enjoyed El Farolito and know why it is so popular: fresh food, great comfort cooking, and lots of tasty dishes. Add an inexpensive menu and you have a winner.
I guess I now know that I can talk J. into Mexican food much easier by mentioning El Farolito.
201 South Bradford Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870
Notes: Parking is on the street or in several lots located a block away from the restaurant on Bradford.