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EATS: EL PINO IS A CROWD-PLEASER

In the year since El Pino opened, folks have raved about it. That speaks well for one of the many Mexican restaurants in and around Fredericksburg. When My Dining Partner and I recently visited this family-owned eatery, the reasons for El Pino’s popularity were clear: great food, great service and good value. We stopped by for lunch and were lucky to get a seat. Customers, many repeat, continued to fill the place, and one of our servers told us that although it was her day off, she didn’t mind coming in. Among those attending our table was owner and chef Ismael Gomez, who helped guide us through menu choices.

We selected from both the regular meals and lunch specials.

I began with coktel de camarones  ($10.25), a shrimp cocktail that is so large and delicious that it is a meal in itself. when it is done to perfection, as this was. The cocktail of warm tomato juice was packed with very large, fresh and tender shrimp, chunks of avocado, cilantro and onion. There was a hint of jalapeño in the salsa mix and a kiss of lime.

MDP ordered ceviche ($7.99), a generous medley of seafood “cooked” in lime and tossed like a salad. And he also ordered a half portion of menudo ($4.95), one of his favorites. Gomez approved, saying he had made the soup himself. MDP also approved.

The tripe was tender and plentiful, hominy dotting the broth. It was served with a bowl of chopped onions for additional zest.

At Gomez’s recommendation, I ordered the Texan fajitas ($7.99), a lunch special platter chock-full of a mix of tender pieces of steak, chicken and shrimp—none overcooked or dry—and some of the best stir-fried vegetables I’ve tasted. The onions were especially sweet. The platter also included yellow rice and refried beans.

MDP ordered  lunch special No. 21—a combo platter of a burrito, chile relleno (coated in egg) and tamale ($5.99). There was enough food to feed two for dinner! His only “complaint” was that there was a lot of cheese covering all three items, making it difficult to tell, visually, which was which.

We ended by splitting homemade flan drenched in syrup ($3.50)—a custardy winner.

Gomez has freshened up the interior of the restaurant, which was formerly home to El Paso, part of a small chain.

As El Pino celebrates its first anniversary in June, its success is well deserved.

What: El Pino Mexican Restaurant

Address: 4211 Plank Road, Fredericksburg, in the Chancellor Center shopping center near CVS and Travel Leaders.

Info: 540/548-4332; elpinomexicanrestaurant. com

Hours: Daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers/sides: $3.75–$9.99; Soups and salads: $4.95–$8.99; Dinners: $6.50–$13.99; Desserts: $3.25–$3.50; Children’s menu: $4; Beer, wine and mixed drinks available.

The Scoop:  Family-owned and family-friendly. Bustling, attentive service. Background Mexican music adds atmosphere without being intrusive.

Payment:  Major credit cards accepted.

Linda Salisbury is the author of the  Bailey Fish books, an award-winning  adventure series for kids.

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