This new Mexican restaurant, just opened in March on Wilmington Island, is worth checking out. The five Ramirez brothers who work there, with José, being the nominal owner as well as manager and bartender, have taken a cue from their two other brothers, who own a Jalapeños in Statesboro, on putting together the menu. While not particularly authentic, the food is definitely delicious, the portions generous, and the guacamole—one of the unfailing standards of quality in a Mexican restaurant, at least for me—is obviously made fresh, a bit on the chunky side, and quite addictive! I had to add a pinch of salt, but otherwise, it was perfect with the warm, crispy chips.
A Peruvian friend of mine who lives on Wilmington Island had called me the previous week to rave about the place (her favorite, Ranchero Steak, is always good here, she said), which is a bit unusual as she’s really not into Mexican food as a rule. Peruvian and Mexican cooking, while both wonderful are quite different. So, when she called so excitedly, I thought I’d slide over and take a peek at the place.
Located on the main strip of Johnny Mercer, across from the Kroger, in the corner of the shopping center. The place has been redecorated to give it the proper Mexican feel, and is quite a big larger than most Mexican restaurants, making it perfect for big parties. One thing that struck me is the very friendly service, the pleasant rapport of guests and servers, and a certain graciousness of the host and owner José Ramirez of Guerrero, Mexico.
We started with another “test” of mine for Mexican places: the humble tamal (singular—plural is tamales). Now this food, done right, is firm, moist, full of fine corn flavor, and can be stuffed with anything from pork and chicken with spicy sauce or sometimes made sweet with pineapple during Christmas. A problem I’ve encountered time after time is the kitchen burning the thing or bringing me a tamal so dry and chewy as to be inedible—and always drowned in a meat sauce so they think you won’t notice—I always do. My pork tamal here was a little on the dry side, but the filling was tasty enough, and though not burnt, did not have the rich corn flavor I love. Asking the owner, I was told it comes ready-made, and I am guessing it is thawed out and re-heated. I’d give it a C+.
The Arroz con Mariscos (Seafood with rice) dish was quite good and full-flavored with “crab”, shrimp and scallops grilled in butter and served on red Mexican rice, then topped with a very rich Queso Ranchero (white cheese) sauce. You get a side dish of lettuce, sour cream and guac, and can ask for tortillas—get the warm corn tortillas, which go excellently with this dish. Very filling, but quite good heated up and wrapped in a grilled tortilla the next day for lunch—I always ask for extra tortillas—the owner says the brand is the reliable El Milagro, usually found wrapped in white paper in the cold cases at tiendas everywhere.
Chiles Poblanos was our next choice and I’d say…well, not bad, but could be better with a little work. The big, batter-fried poblanos were delicious; however, I think the fried crust could have been a tad thicker and crispier. The chicken filling was OK, but a little dry and needed more flavor; the beef filling was ground beef, which I’ve honestly never seen served in native dishes at the homes of Mexican friends—that is an American permutation that just never worked for me. It’s alright, but again, needs more flavor. The cheese sauce was good, and the accompanying Mexican rice was moist though a little bland; the refried beans were tasty and plentiful.
If you know something about authentic Mexican food, you wanna ask for the “special menu”. At the moment it has only five items–the one I ordered was the Tacos de Lengua. This is one of those dishes that Mexican people get used to Americanos turning up their noses at (silly gringos!), because the meat is cow tongue (“Ewww! I can’t eat that!”). Well, too bad for you, hombre, ’cause it was THE favorite dish of the night here! Tender, tasty, flavorful lil’ chunks, served on warm, grilled corn tortillas with decorative (thoroughly edible) fresh radish, onion and fresh chopped cilantro and a side of salsa verde—Dios Mio! Seriously! Gimme three or four of these with a big bowl of guac and a good margarita and I’m a happy girl.
Speaking of margaritas…again, an item that fell a bit short. Usually, after a 12 oz. margarita (frozen) I can feel that slight head-buzz that is so pleasant, but not intrusive, that can make a meal so much livelier. Nope. Nothing here. My personal opinion: they need more alcohol in the drink and a better quality mix too, or better, fresh lime juice—the margarita here was OK, but lacked that essential, lip-smacking tang a good one should have.
All in all the experience remained pleasant though. The prices are quite reasonable, the food, for the most part, well prepared, and I’m willing to give them a little time to work out the kinks. I’d go back again, just for those Tacos de Lengua, and I am also curious to try their version of Mojarra Frita (whole fried tilapia), and perhaps the Pork Carnitas, which I’ve heard were scrumptious. Definitely wanna give them another try!
444 Johnny Mercer Blvd on Wilmington Island
Photo Credit: Cheryl Baisden Solis