This venerable South Fourth fortress has a reputation as one of those “safe” Mexican eateries, the kind of place you can take everybody in the office or family, even the ones who give the hard G sound to saguaro and agua.
What started as a drive-in in 1948 has grown into a compound that has a bulletproof, somewhat restaurant-at-the-hospital look and feel. I prefer the north dining room to the other two, as it’s a little more festive, has a little more color and lets in a little more light.
It had been a while since I passed through the double doors at Double L, and I was pleased to encounter a new menu that comes with the old one. The addition features a comprehensive array of seafood entrees, cocktails and soups and new traditional entrees such as Calabacitas, Chilaquiles, Chicken Mole, Milanesa, Sonoran-style Barbacoa and tortas.
Let your “hard G” companions order off the old menu, but if you want Guillermo’s best, go with the new one.
We started a recent visit with the Campechana (assorted seafood cocktail ($10), a parfait glass loaded with shrimp, scallops, abalone, a pair of larger oysters and ceviche-style fish in a gazapacho-ish bath with fine-diced cabbage, celery and onions.
We initially found the spicing on the cocktail base to be overly mild, but later realized it was well-gauged to showcase the generous and diverse array of good quality seafood. The sultry scallops and near-crunchy shrimp were notably impressive, and though we split the small version of the cocktail (the large goes for $12), it was more than enough for both of us.
We weren’t up for a cheese crisp or a quesadilla, so we ordered the Calabacitas entree ($7.95) for a second starter.
The zucchini, onions and bell peppers were nicely sautéed, but rather than the cream sauce we’re used to with Calabacitas, this one came with an Italian-dressing-style sauce that we found off-putting and overly piquant.
The Milanesa ($8.95) entree off the new menu also came out a little different than versions to which we’re accustomed, as the breading had the grit of cornmeal. Rather than a floppy, elephant-ear cutlet, this one was a little bit stiffer owing to the breading, but the beef itself was moist and flavorful.
The breading was kept thin enough to not steal center stage from the beef, and though we’d have preferred the texture of the breading to be more along the lines of a thin, chicken-fried steak, the added cornmeal did add a bit of pleasant sweetness to the dish.
Our other entree, the Chile Relleno de Camaron ($13.95), delivered a payoff every bit as flavorful and impressive as the Campechana. The relleno batter had just the right sizzle and crispness of egg whites and was stuffed to burrito size with medium-sized shrimp, a well-roasted, carefully seeded Anaheim chile, and good, mild Mexican white cheese. The sweetness and pull of the shrimp added a flavor and texture to the relleno without taking away from what would have been a first-rate relleno all by its lonesome.
Beans and rice that came with both entrees were above average by “safe” Mexican standards, as the beans had a husky flavor and were topped with melted Queso Fresco, and the fluffy rice had soft notes of chicken stock and tomato rather than the overbearingly salty and soggy versions one often encounters.
Desserts brought the only real disappointment of the night, but it was a big one. The Flan ($3.25) was altogether inedible. The caramel sauce was burnt to such a degree that it rendered the whole affair into one that tasted like we were eating an ash tray. I gave the flan a second chance on a follow-up visit. This time, the lack of ash-laden sourness revealed the custard for what it was – a thin, flavor-challenged version that tasted a lot like the little Jell-O-sized boxes of powdered flan mix you get for 59 cents at Food City.
We fared much better with our other dessert, a generous cube of Almendrado ($3.25). The spongy, gelatin meringue was layered in the colors of the Mexican flag and generously slathered in a blond almond sauce with lots of tiny bits of minced almond. Almendrado is an uncomplicated treat, the meringue itself offering not much more than pillowed sweetness and the almond sauce an equally simple teaming of almond flavoring and condensed milk. While this somewhat one-dimensional enterprise is not for everybody, there’s a quiet appeal in the tender, puffy affair that I’ve always been a sucker for, and Guillermo’s Almendrado is one of the better and more generously portioned versions I’ve encountered.
The icing on the cake, or Almendrado as it were, at Double L is the service, which is as professional as you’ll get at a restaurant, Mexican or otherwise. The servers know all the regulars and the menu backwards and forwards (even the new one), swoop in as soon as a glass or the chip bowl empties and couldn’t be more attentive and prompt.
These are not your itinerant, uncaring loafers in a holding pattern while they finish school, or glorified busers who don’t know their cabezas from holes in the ground. They’re career servers, lifers who have raised their families off the tips you leave at these sturdy wooden tables, and they, as much as anyone or anything at Double L, are the reason this restaurant has prospered for 68 years.
While the old menu is all most people need to keep coming here, the new one has infused this local institution with a considerable dose of energy that separates it from sleepier “safe-Mex” standbys.
AT A GLANCE
Address and phone: 1830 S. Fourth Ave., 702-4583
Hours: 11 a.m-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays
Prices: Appetizers from $5.75 to $8.25, soups and salads from $1.95 to $9.50, entrees from $6.95 to $18.50, desserts from $1.45 to $3.95
Vegetarian options: Several, including Calabacitas ($7.95), Chilaquiles ($7.95), Chilango Burro entree ($7.95) and Vegetarian Topopo Salad ($8.50)
Desserts: Sopapillas, Flan, Almendrado and Choco Taco
Latest health inspection: A good rating Feb. 12. A critical violation was reported for potentially hazardous foods not held at proper cooling temperature.