Even an old favorite can let you down.
Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard has been a staple for my family since its beginnings in 2000.
We have seen changes in staff and ownership over the years, but there are a few employees who have been fixtures.
And it is those friendly faces that make us give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt.
But during my recent visits, the usually stellar service was missing and I was let down by the food.
There weren't enough smiles from the staff to make up for it, either.
I was disappointed from the start with the guacamole. Given so many places make it to order, Mi Pueblo's plain version with no tomatoes, jalapeños or onions was not worth the effort.
It would be fine as a garnish, but I would not order it as an appetizer again.
I will be ordering the Mi Pueblo Dip again. A basic white queso sauce was packed with grilled steak, chicken and shrimp to create this little goblet of goodness.
There was no shortage of meat, the sauce was creamy and delicious, and the steak was super tender.
The steak was also a winner as a main course. I was torn between the Steak Ranchero – a porterhouse smothered in red sauce – and Steak Mexicano – topped with cooked onions, tomatoes and peppers.
I asked to combine them and was granted that wish for an up charge, so I got the veggies and the sauce.
Since I had some queso left, I drizzled a little on top and created a Mexican Philly cheesesteak of sorts.
The porterhouse was not steakhouse quality, but it was cooked in a way to make it super tender. I asked for corn tortillas and was mistakenly given flour, which were fine, but when I finally got corn tortillas I realized that was the way to go.
The slight sweetness of the corn played really well with the zesty, slightly sweet red sauce and bright green peppers.
The separate Mi Pueblo seafood menu was where I found another must-have dish.
The Molcajete Loco was dubbed as a “new specialty,” and featured shrimp, octopus, scallops, imitation crab, crab legs, mussels and clams cooked in a loose, broth-like red sauce and served in a hot, sizzling stone bowl.
The whole, head-on shrimp were the stars as they were sweet, yummy and perfectly cooked. None of the seafood in this dish was overcooked, either. The crab legs were a little sparse but the fight to harvest the meat was well worth it. The octopus was also spot on and I loved how it tasted with the fiery broth.
Yes, it was not for the faint of heart.
The only flaws were that the tiny scallops were a bit lost and the mussels had a strong fishy flavor. It was also a huge portion that would be perfect for sharing.
My second selection from the sea, the Camarones Aquachile, was far less appealing.
Touted as “shrimp cooked with onion and a special green sauce and lime juice,” I envisioned it being a take on ceviche.
But this shrimp was simply raw. I was scared to eat much of it. Had it been cooked or at least marinated long enough like ceviche, it would have been a nice dish.
There was just the right amount of lime and the addition of raw onion and the unexpected cucumber was a nice twist.
The Queso Coyote also could have been tasty had I chosen a different meat. It was a platter of melted cheese topped with choice of meat, veggies and more shredded cheese. I chose chorizo and paid a $3 extra only to discover it was horribly salty.
I also thought having my chile relleno topped with queso sauce was a good idea, but there is enough cheese inside the egg-battered pepper that the red sauce is what it needs. I paired it with a pork tamale and it had the perfect sauce on top – a dark, rich brown sauce that reminded me of mole. With the tender stringy meat enrobed with sweet, perfectly steamed masa, it was fabulous.
The service was far from fabulous. During one visit I waited far too long to be seated given it was not overly busy and then waited even longer for a server to arrive at the table to take my order.
The second visit was just as poor. After my order was taken and food was delivered, I was deserted.
Nobody cleared finished plates, I had to flag someone down twice for drink refills for my party and I finally gave up on my bill being brought. I went to the register to pay without one and then had to wait forever while my missing server was located.
The true sign that things had gone awry that visit was my fried ice cream. After flagging down my server so I could order it and then shifting and stacking the plates that hadn't been removed to make room for the dessert, I was ready to dig in. But something was wrong.
The ice cream was not coated in a sugary shell or crumbled cereal, it was simply a big, hard, icy glob of ice cream in a flaky fried tortilla bowl.
I again flagged down my server and told her I didn't think my fried ice cream had been fried.
“We didn't have any prepped for today so it's just ice cream,” she said.
“Well, that's not fried ice cream,” I replied.
“Yeah, sorry,” she said as she walked away.
No effort was made to fix the problem, an alternative was not offered, and I wasn't even given the chance to send it away or have it taken off my bill.
Restaurant: Mi Pueblo Mexican Restaurant
Address: 2419 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Guacamole ($4.49), Mi Pueblo Dip ($6.99), steak ($16.99), Molcajete Loco ($25.99), Camarones Aquachile ($15.99), Queso Coyote ($13.99), tamale ($2.99), chile relleno ($3.99), fried ice cream ($3.80)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Out of a possible five