When I was in junior high and high school, many of my after-school hours were spent at the “old” Ming Wah restaurant on the corner of Baker Avenue and Walton Way, where I was a hostess and cashier.
It’s where I first learned to multitask – with phones ringing off the hook with pick-up orders, a line of customers waiting to pay, and still others waiting to be seated. And I will always remember the dark red and black interior, the particular “pond” smell of the wishing pool at one of the entrances and the slightly tacky feel of the decades-old carpets.
I was sad when the old institution closed a year or so ago – and intrigued when I saw Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant, Bar & Grill take its place (especially with the transformation of Teresa’s on Walton Way into Lanier’s Meat Market, leaving that strip of Walton Way without a sit-down Mexican restaurant).
The dragon columns went away and the exterior was painted peach, but otherwise the old place still looks about the same from the outside. Inside, the long-dried-out wishing pool was still there, but everything looked fresh with new light carpeting, better lighting and pale wood chairs, and the red booths were bright and festive against yellow, peach and pink walls.
We’d actually called in our order for pickup as we’d be dining with our friends Jenni and Wyatt – and little Wyatt, who at 2 is in his “active” stage. Jenni texted over the menu pages – six full pages featuring appetizers, nachos, soups and salads, fajitas, steak dishes, house specials and chef’s specials, chicken dishes, seafood dishes, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, chimichangas, vegetarian options and make-your-own combos with your choice of two classic Mexican entrées.
When we go to a new restaurant, we often like to try the house or chef’s specials, so after some consideration, I went for the chilaquiles mexicanos – corn tortillas cooked with chicken, onions and sauce, topped with cheese and served with rice and guacamole salad. Sean couldn’t decide, but went for another item on the same page – the carne asada, sliced steak and onion with rice, beans, pico de gallo, cactus, sliced avocado and tortillas.
The phone call went something like this. Me: “I’d like to order one of the specialties of the house: the chill-lakwiles mecksi-canos?”
On the other line, silence. Then the cashier, no doubt struggling to hold in laughter at my terrible pronunciation, patiently walked me through the menu until we pinned down that what I really wanted was the far more musical-sounding: chi-ya-kiyes me-hi-canos.
Our orders came in metallic pans that kept them warm until we reached our destination. First step: Tear open the brown paper bag of still warm, crispy fresh tortilla chips and dunk them in some mild salsa (Little Wyatt wholeheartedly dug in, wanting chips, chips and more chips all night long).
Popping open our containers, I thought Sean’s looked amazing: rice and beans topped with dark brown slices of steak; a bright green salad of lettuce, onions, tomatoes and cilantro; sliced avocado, grilled green onions, stems on; and grilled and sliced cactus. He fixed a tortilla, piling with meat and all the toppings, then handed it to me for a bite. The steak was a bit chewy and salty, but the toppings made the meal: fresh, creamy avocado, delicate onion and the slightly tangy cactus (which I’d never had before).
My guacamole salad didn’t make it into my dish – and I think it would have helped to have had a bit of green tanginess to add an extra dimension. Still, the chilaquiles mexicanos was good – mild chicken topped with white cheese and a typical Mexican red sauce, with damp onions and even damper strips of corn tortilla.
We enjoyed the meal, so when we were looking for dinner a few weeks later we went back, this time to dine in.
As we walked in, the first thing we noticed was a weird smell that wasn’t there last time: To be honest, it smelled like trash and even though it wasn’t super strong, it was strong enough that I thought about not staying. But, in the interest of this column, I decided to go ahead and order. We chose more traditional combos this time, Sean opting for a beef burrito and quesadilla, while I went for the enchilada and the poblano pepper, which the waitress recommended (both came with rice and beans).
Once again the chips were fresh, warm and delicious, with two types of salsa – the mild once again and a zingy hot salsa that Sean couldn’t stop eating. But while we enjoyed our specialties last time, the more typical items we chose this time were a disappointment.
The chicken enchilada was to come with onions and peppers, but all I found were two small strips of onion, bland chicken and a lot of average red sauce in the fairly small entrée. The poblano pepper was pleasantly hot on my lips, but the filling of slighty lumpy and dry mashed potatoes and cheese was just disconcerting.
Sean’s chicken quesadilla would have warmed any picky eater’s heart with its simple filling of chicken and mild white cheese, and was probably our favorite of the night, especially when we topped it with lettuce, tomato and sour cream. But his beef burrito? Again it was small (no fat burrito here), and the meat itself was pretty bland.
We had wonderful service though – plenty of smiles and they were quick to take our order and check on us throughout the night. But both times we went, the restaurant was fairly empty. I’ve heard that a number of former Teresa’s employees are working at Los Cabos – and I can only hope that they can share some more of their experience to help make this Mexican restaurant as successful.
ON THE MENU
WHERE: Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant,
Bar & Grill, 920 Baker Ave.
HOURS: Daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
SECOND HELPING: (706) 922-1797