Photo Credit: Gabe Vodicka
Ameri-Mex, Part One: It can be hard to get enthusiastic about yet another Americanized Mexican restaurant, especially when we have so much of the real stuff around town. From Tlaloc to Los Reyes, Mi Tierra to La Rosita, you can get cócteles, seafood soups, mole and more. Elsewhere, La Estrella and Sr. Sol (more below) do a nice job balancing authentic but less crowd-pleasing options like buche tacos with the more familiar combo platters most of us grew up eating.
Los Coyotes (1155 Mitchell Bridge Rd., 706-850-3333, www.loscoyotesmexicanrestaurant.com) is firmly in the gringo-friendly genre, with a giant menu that involves many combinations of the same few ingredients, an emphasis on the bar and not much that’s particularly impressive. The space is the one vacated by the Iron Grill and Harry Bissett’s before that, in the large, architecturally postmodern blue building just after Cofer’s, and it is massive. It’s hard to see how anyone could sell enough food and drink to make it profitable, and even when the staff makes an effort to seat all the customers in the same area, it can feel empty.
The outdoor seating, both ground floor and second level, seems like a nice option when the weather is pleasant, and it’s not that easy to find a Mexican restaurant with a patio in Athens, so it’s a good selling point. The inside also feels hastily taken over, with the super-fancy sinks in the restrooms contrasting with the flatscreen TVs mounted in the dining rooms and the two different radio stations audible. Some aspects of the place—the inability of some staff, admittedly new, to work the cash register; the amazing Flash-based website that features loud music and coyotes moving slowly across the bottom of the screen; a Facebook page devoted largely to baby pictures—feel as though it’s operated by folks new to the business, but, in fact, they appear to also own both Acapulcos in Watkinsville and Panchos in Winder.
The food is mostly fine, and the Mexican-style tacos (soft, served flat and topped with, in my case, a mixture of chorizo and asada, onions, a mountain of cilantro and limes on the side) are surprisingly well executed, meaty and not wussy. The torta, on the other hand, has a weird cinnamon flavor that seems to come from the bread, a rounder and softer loaf than is usual for the sandwich. The refried beans were fine on one occasion and terrible on another. The “Don Chon” special comes with a chalupa, an enchilada, a tamale, a chile relleno and a taco, plus rice and beans, but it’s difficult to tell what’s what, or even if it’s all there. It is, however, a reasonably tasty melange of corn, ground beef, cheese and red sauce.
Los Coyotes is open for lunch and dinner every day. It does beer and margaritas, offers take-out, has specials on food and drink Wednesday and Thursday and takes credit cards. It also has butter mints by the door.
Ameri-Mex, Part Two: In the same vein is La Cabaña de Don Juan (995 Hawthorne Ave., 706-613-3535), which took the place of the Westside La Fiesta, next to Bell’s, a few months ago. It, too, is not the first rodeo for its owners, who have a place of the same name in Washington, GA. Its menu is maybe a little less adventurous but almost equally sizable and printed on a cheery yellow background. If you’re looking for a basic burrito filled with ground meat and not much else, the restaurant does a classic version. If, however, you order the “La Cabaña special” hoping for something more exciting, you may be disappointed. It’s not that the plate of grilled chicken and shrimp, onions and pineapple, with a side of refried beans, is bad (except for the guacamole, which is). It’s more that it’s just not very ambitious.
The place is clean, the people who run it are nice and professional, they seem to mix a wide variety of drinks (the Bulldog Margarona appears to be a frozen margarita with a bottle of Corona emptied into it) and it may very well be exactly what you want on a Friday night. The kids’ section of the menu should please picky eaters, and the decoration of the space is fun. If that’s what you’re looking for, then you will be happy with either of these restaurants. La Cabaña is open for lunch and dinner every day and takes credit cards. No butter mints, though.
What Up?: If you’ve been fretting about the disappearance of Taj Mahal, the Indian (etc.) grocery that was on Baxter and suddenly vanished, set your mind at ease. It’s relocating to West Broad Street near Alps, next to the St. Mary’s Thrift Store… Sr. Sol, the much beloved Mexican restaurant with two locations, is celebrating five years in business on Apr. 25, with specials all day and a mariachi band at the Broad Street iteration… In one of the most-liked stories in the history of Flagpole’s Facebook presence, JB, of Polish sausage fame, is occasionally but not regularly back outside the 40 Watt late nights. If it’s a sold-out show or a big weekend, chances are good you can get his Polish sausage dog with grilled peppers and onions, plus the magical comeback sauce. Woo!