Restaurant review: El Mezcal shows promiseTo be fair, visiting a restaurant the day after it opens means having to give it a little slack when judging service and ambiance.
By: Eric Daeuber, special to The Forum, INFORUM
2515 S. University Drive, Fargo
- Food: three stars
- Service: two and a half stars
- Ambiance: one star
- Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
- Phone: (701) 212-0165
- Reservations accepted: No
- Alcohol: Full bar
- Dress: As you like
- Credit cards accepted: Visa, Mastercard and Discover
To be fair, visiting a restaurant the day after it opens means having to give it a little slack when judging service and ambiance.
Apart from a new coat of paint, the only things on the wall at El Mezcal are the permits it needs to open its doors. But if the restaurant’s food is any indication of a promise of better things to come, it has potential.
True, there’s nothing to look at and the restaurant’s waitstaff are still finding their feet. Plus, it takes a little prodding to get recommendations or to learn a bit about the menu, but the food arrives hot, on time and the way it was ordered, and that’s a good start.
El Mezcal has what most Mexican restaurants in town have – an enormous menu with loads of tacos, burritos, fajitas, nachos, enchiladas and, well, you get the picture. They show up in various arrangements as $8.99 combo platters, $6.95 lunch specials and $10.95 dinners.
The options should be familiar to anyone who’s eaten at any of the city’s many Mexican restaurants. But there are a few ingredients, and a few taste experiences, that make a particular establishment’s menu a little more distinct than its competitors; among the most telling is how the chef deals with the two culinary poles of spicy and mild.
For this challenge try El Mezcal’s Choli-pollo ($11.25), a hammered chicken breast topped with queso and chorizo sausage crumbled and browned. It has bite with a quality, spicy chorizo taking center stage, as it should, and a complementary cheese to carry the flavors to every corner of the chicken.
On the other end of the gastronomic globe, you can try El Mezcal’s version of Carnitas ($10.95). It features pork shoulder, lightly browned to caramelize the surface, and is braised in beer and orange juice, or so it tastes. The flavor is subtle, slightly sweet, and makes one wonder exactly what it’s been simmering in and how many hours it took to make it that tender.
The dishes’ sides are less interesting, but pleasant enough. The notable exception might be the guacamole, which is about as fresh as you can find in the frozen north. It’s clearly made in the kitchen, and it tends to the mild side, making the taste of the avocado stand out.
It’s hard to fault a restaurant for not hanging any hats on the walls, and hopefully that will change. But for value and some interesting versions of classic menu items, El Mezcal shows promise. And you can order your favorite drink made with Mezcal, too, if you’re inclined to end your evening with a signature.
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.