Los Potrillos offers an extensive menu of delicious Mexican dishes

The Camarones al Mojo de ajo in Los Potrillos. (Heather Hunter/For the newspaper)

The past two years of limited travel during the pandemic have prevented those yearning for true Mexican flavors from planning culinary adventures in our neighboring country to the south. Although getting to Mexico can be a challenge, a quick and easy drive to the northwest corner of Cerrillos Road and St. Michael’s Drive is the answer for a good dose of Mexican food.

This is where Los Potrillos has been satisfying customers since 2004. Los Potrillos means “foals” in English, which is reflected in the horse-centric decor of this established and well-run restaurant owned by brothers Jose and Gustavo Tapia.

As soon as you enter this expansive space filled with authentic Mexican furniture, artwork, and a mural painted by an artist from Guadalajara, you’ll immediately feel closer to Mexico. Although the hospitable Mexican staff prefers to speak in their native language, they speak English and are listo para servele (ready to serve you). Two other tell-tale signs of a family-style Mexican restaurant are the Mexican music playing in the background and the two TVs showing various sports games, especially soccer.

A busy restaurant no matter what time you dine, customers, also mostly Spanish speaking, came to stock up on their favorite local dishes. Breakfast is served daily until noon and they have a lunch and dinner menu.

Breakfast seems to be the hot ticket in town as the place was packed when we arrived on a Sunday morning at 11am. The one-page menu is simple and showcases the best of classic Mexican breakfasts. All plates are around $10 and come with refried beans, sautéed potatoes, and corn or flour tortillas. I had the Huevos a La Mexicana with nopales, while my table companion ordered the Hey Chihuahua plate, which included flank steak covered in chipotle salsa and two eggs. We both felt like we had woken up in Mexico City and the meal filled us up all day.

If you’re going for lunch or dinner, you’ll need time to review the extensive menu that features classic regional and seafood dishes — many of which are unique to Los Potrillos. So kick back and enjoy a bowl of light and crispy tortilla chips served with three salsas – spicy chipotle, fire-roasted tomato and cold jalapeno-avocado. While all three salsas are delicious, my favorite is the spicy chipotle, which I generously drizzle over everything. A generous order of homemade guacamole ($9.50), which will easily feed four people, is a great way to whet your appetite.

On our first visit, we dove in headfirst and ordered their specialty Parrillada Para Dos (grilled plate for two) Costillas Pancho Villa ($34.25). This enormous platter is filled to the brim with tender grilled pork ribs, spicy grilled chorizo, nopal (cactus) salad, cheese quesadilla and charro beans. More like a party platter, it could easily serve three or four people, especially if you order another entrée. The charro beans are light on the beans and heavy on the minced hot dogs and sausage, so if you don’t like that, consider ordering the refried beans, which are stellar.

Bistek Ranchero in Los Potrillos is one of the many spicy dishes available. (Heather Hunter/For the newspaper)

Over the years I’ve become a regular and these are my favorite dishes – Vegetarian Enchiladas ($13), Shrimp Enchiladas ($15.50), Molcajete Al Pastor ($16.25) and Camarones al Mojo de Ajo ( $15.75). Every dish feeds my craving for real Mexican food. The food is neither too salty nor too spicy, but just right.

My dining companion also enjoyed matching menu items including Mole Enchiladas ($14.95), Bistek Ranchero ($16.75), and Tacos al Carbon ($15.25).

Because Mexican food calls for a cold drink, they offer wine and beer, including a wine margarita. But don’t miss the aguas frescas ($3), a standard non-alcoholic drink in Mexico, usually fruit-based. Choose from lemonade, horchata (made with rice and flavored with cinnamon and sugar), or pineapple.

On a cold winter day, a hot bowl of soup warms us from the inside. From Puchero de Res ($13), a typical Yucatan soup with beef, to their popular Birria Zacatecana ($15.75), a goat meat soup native to Jalisco, to pozole and menudo to a steaming bowl of soup Seafood, Levantate Lazaro ($14.75 small/$16.75 large), soups are popular at Los Potrillos.

Carnivores will be in awe of the selection. I recommend the Costillas plate ($16.50), grilled ribs or Mi General ($18.95) which includes grilled snatch steak, five grilled shrimp, guacamole, grilled nopalitos, grilled onion, rice and beans. Similarly, the Bistek Ranchero ($16.75) features tender strips of beef grilled and smothered in a delicious tomato, onion, and jalapeno sauce and rice and beans. These plates are seriously satisfying and generous.

If you prefer chicken, they have a whole section dedicated to the bird. And vegetarians will be easily charmed by the many options including vegetarian enchiladas, gorditas, chile rellenos and quesadillas.

With seven kinds of enchiladas, enchilada lovers will also be in heaven. From mole to chicken enchiladas, you’ll enjoy three one-order enchiladas with rice and beans. They also have traditional chili rellenos ($14.75) and Mexico’s famous chili en nogada ($16.50), which is served year-round.

If you’ve ever been to Puebla, you’ll fall for the molcajete dishes at Los Potrillos. Our favorite is the Molcajete al Pastor ($16.25), as we love the combination of achiote-marinated pork and grilled pineapple. Stuff these small, tender pieces of creamy pork into a warm corn tortilla, sprinkle with diced white onions, chopped pineapple, cilantro and a little salsa and you’ll swear you’re in Mexico City.

Seafood lovers won’t be disappointed either, but you might be challenged with plenty of choice. Hailing from Mexico’s Campeche coast, the classic campechana ($14.95) is a seafood cocktail filled with octopus and shrimp dressed in a tangy tomato sauce with pico de gallo. I recently enjoyed the Camarones al Mojo de Ajo (Shrimp in Garlic Sauce) ($15.75). Served with rice and mixed vegetables, the shrimp swim in a garlic sauce that craves to dip with warm corn tortillas. They also have fresh oysters on the half shell ($12.75 half dozen/$15.95 per dozen), which are well priced and very popular.

As for their desserts, we tried the flan and the rice pudding tart and neither were memorable. With so much attention paid to their extravagant menu, the desserts feel like a store-bought afterthought. But I’m ok with that because the portions are so generous and the food so good you probably won’t even want or have room for dessert.

When I asked our waitress about the extensive menu and the most popular dishes, she exclaimed “Vendemos todo en el menu” which translates to “We are selling all the dishes on the menu”. Although this is an extensive menu, don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new. I promise you won’t be disappointed and I also promise you it will be much cheaper than a trip to Mexico.

For more on Santa Fe’s food and hospitality scene, check out Heather Hunter’s blog, “The Cowgirl Gourmet in Santa Fe,” at thecowgirlgourmetinsantafe.com.

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