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Let the Chips Fall Where They May

The Meat and Potato Man goes Mexican!

Readers often have questioned how to determine how to spend their hard-earned dollar in the dining genre. Well, have no fear, Meat 'n' Potato Man is here. Each month, somewhere in the pages of Living North I will bring you information on local eateries. You may have sampled the fare at some of these establishments. Others may have been off your radar, and you have not enjoyed their offerings. My intent is simple. I want to let you, the reader, know what is available for your dining pleasure. I want to let you know if I think it is worth your time and money for a dinner (or lunch, or breakfast). I want to let you know what I find good or bad through a visit to the selected establishment. There is no doubt that the Meat 'n' Potato Man is well qualified for this position. After all, the Meat 'n' Potato Man has been eating for over half a century. Living North enjoys a great relationship with a diverse selection of eateries. Advertiser or not, the Meat 'n' Potato Man will select his own venues and give you an honest appraisal of his experience. It has to be that way. That is the only way the Meat 'n' Potato Man will continue to assess eateries and the only way you, the reader, can rely upon him for accurate information.

On a rainy Tuesday night, the Meat 'n' Potato Man drove to Hacienda del Sol in Downtown Duluth. At 6 p.m. I found parking just half a block away. Entering the eatery, I was greeted pleasantly and promptly by a server and told to sit anywhere I wanted. It appeared that only two booths were open at the time, I grabbed one of them, about in the middle of the dining area.

As I sat down, I was cheerily greeted by my server who introduced herself as "Kristie."

Kristie set down chips and two bowls of salsa. Waiting for my table guests I sampled the chips (room temperature) and each of the salsas. No real difference between the two except a slight visual departure from the other.

I then noticed the booth was a bit uncomfortable. I was sitting on an unpadded wooden bench with a Formica-topped table just a bit too close for comfort. The table was adorned with a plain white paper placemat and utensils were wrapped in a paper napkin. Looking about the facility I noticed plastic sheeting covering places in the ceiling where the plaster appears to have fallen. The high walls were seemingly undecorated. I was unimpressed with the visual comfort of my surroundings.

When my table guests arrived I was deeply immersed in the worn and stained menu. I noted an offering of four appetizers, 14 dinner selections, five combo plates, a la carte selections, two different kinds of PB&J sandwiches and three dessert selections. The blackboard on the wall boasted 11 different wines and more variations of beers than could be easily counted by my feeble brain.

Kristi returned to our table with her ever present smile and took our dinner orders. One of my guests ordered two beef tacos, mild, thank you. My second guest ordered a Burrito de Chorizo. I selected beef and cheese enchiladas, medium spice for flavor.

With the arrival of our dinners I noted an attractive presentation upon the plates. The beef tacos were reported to be, "Really good." The taco shells were crisp and the lettuce topping was crisp and cool. The Burrito de Chorizo surprised my other guest to the point of exclamation. He told me that chorizo meals tend to be a bit oily, due to the nature of chorizo but found his meal to not be so, much to his pleasure. I admit my fork did wander from my plate and I scooped up a bit of his chorizo to sample and I agree, it was tasty and not oily. My enchiladas were very good. I guess I would order mild spice next time. The spice was not overpowering but certainly the Meat 'n' Potato Man noticed it.

I excused myself to the little boys' room. I was directed upstairs to the back of the upper dining area. Walking though the upper dining area I was pleasantly surprised at the accommodations. While the lower dining room reminded me of a dime store lunch counter, the upper level was well appointed, clean, comfortable, and inviting. The restroom was clean and well serviced.

Along with my guests, we discussed our impressions. All in all we were favorably impressed with the quality of our meals and the portions were huge. Service was excellent. The Meat 'n' Potato Man believes that a multitude of shortcomings can be overlooked when the restaurant staff is engaging, friendly, attentive and personable. Kristie scores high marks in that regard. The Meat 'n' Potato Man was not impressed being served his beverage in a plastic tumbler. I was wearing my big boy pants and think a vessel of glass should be afforded those who can handle it.

When Kristie presented the bill it was startlingly refreshing to hear, "I'll be right back with your change". The Meat 'n Potato Man finds it a bit presumptuous when a server asks, "Do you want any change?" If that happens to you, I suggest you do what The Meat 'n' Potato Man does and say, "Yes, I'd like two dollars in quarters, a roll of nickels, and the rest in singles please." The perfunctory statement by servers that seems to be growing in popularity is usually meant to solicit a tip.

Thirty-Five bucks (plus tip, without adult beverages) got the three of us out the door. Had we dined in the comfortable setting of the upstairs dining room I would rate the overall experience "Very Good." The accommodations of the night bring the rating down to a "Low Average," salvaged only by the excellent service of Kristie and the quality of the food itself.

My second journey south of the border for this edition took me to the Miller Hill area and Maya Restaurant. Arriving shortly before 5 p.m., I noted two things: the facility was nearly empty and the restaurant was sparkling clean. The floors did not bear any evidence that it was raining outside. I was a bit early for my arranged 5 p.m. meeting with my guest. Although immediately offered a table, I suggested I would seat myself in the waiting area up front and await his arrival. The staff was comfortable, engaging me in light banter.

About 5:15 I asked to be seated. I feared my table guest would be a no-show, like several of my potential ex-wives have been. Waiting for my guest gave me the opportunity to review the extensive menu. The offerings included nine appetizers, three soups, two salads, an astounding 50 entrees and 20 combination entrees. Also offered were four vegetarian selections, four "North of the Border" selections and five desserts. Mixed among the 10 wine offerings was a hard to find (locally) Riesling and 17 choices of beer. Eight selections of draft beer topped off this category.

My table guest arrived. We deferred ordering for the moment when the waiter, resplendent in costumed tie and sash arrived for our order. A few minutes later we placed our order; Carne Asada for my guest and beef and cheese enchiladas for me. I tried to order directly without referring to the menu for a name or meal number but was referred back to the menu twice by the waiter. While we munched on chips and salsa, awaiting the main course, I learned that my table guest was from my birth town, Long Island.

Our meals arrived promptly. The Meat 'n' Potato Man was amazed at the platter size upon which the Carne Asada was served. The platter could have been a hubcap from a semi! Throughout the meal, my table mate commented about the great quality of his meal. Tasty beef, and warm, moist tortillas, all served in delightful presentation and perfect temperature. The enchiladas served to The Meat 'n' Potato Man fit the same bill for presentation, taste, and quality.

The bus boy missed the opportunity to keep my guest's water glass filled. I gave my guest my water, his dinner beverage of choice.

During our meal I noticed many of the tables were filling. The high-backed booths blocked the general murmur of the now busy dining area, keeping our table conversation at a pleasant audio level.

Our bill for this evening was just shy of 30 bucks without a bar tab or desserts. The exceptionally clean facility, great service, and outstanding food selection, preparation, and presentation earn the well reviewed Maya Restaurant very high scores from The Meat 'n Potato Man.

My last stop this month finds me heading further south to Superior's Mariner Mall and Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant. My dinner guest on this evening was the future ex-Mrs. Meat and Potato Man. Arriving to the midst of the dinner crowd at 6:15 p.m. we were immediately seated in the bright, clean and gaily decorated dining room. Chips and salsa were brought to the table. The chips were warm, the salsa was chilled and had a little kick. We both agreed they were off to a good start. From the menu Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant boasts 25 comb plates, 5 vegetarian plates, 60+ entrees, 17 salads and appetizers, Lunch specials, Daily specials, and Drink specials. Our server was polite and cheerful. She took our orders, meat and cheese enchiladas for The Meat 'n Potato Man, and Beef Chimichanga for my bride. My bride commented she had not seen nor enjoyed a chimichanga since a chain restaurant left Duluth's Fitger's complex years ago.

Our meal was promptly served. Presentation was good. I noted the refried beans seemed to cover about half of the plate. The enchiladas appeared a bit smaller than that at other restaurants I had visited recently but certainly large enough portions for the average bear.

During our meal, I took the opportunity to steal a bit of shredded lettuce from my guests plate. I found it to be fresh, cool, and crisp. I also noted that the chimichanga was filled with shredded beef. What is a guy supposed to do? My fork darted over with the speed of a cheetah on the hunt and before any objection could be raised I had deftly secured a taste of the inviting entrée. It was delicious, well seasoned, and appropriate in temperature.

My enchiladas were very tasty. The tortillas held up well to the seasoned ground beef and cheese filling, and the enchilada sauce that topped them. The temperature was appropriate, the rice side was tasty.

Beverages were served in (here we go again) plastic tumblers. Mine was chipped on the rim. My dinner plate also had a large chip on the edge. Visiting the restroom I found it in need of cleaning and attention. There was a small amount of graffiti on the wall.

Our server was always ready to refill our beverages, chips, and salsa, and to bus the table. Our meal was delightful. Although the restaurant continued to be busy through the 6 p.m. hour we were there, there was no feeling of being rushed. Our bill for this enjoyable evening was a mere $18.00.

All things considered; service, ambiance, food portion, food quality and price, if your feeling inclined to dine Mexican, The Meat and Potato Man recommends:

1. Guadalajara

2. Maya

3. Hacienda del Sol (Upper dining only)

Next month: Bowling Alley Burgers