Old Pueblo Grille: A Reviewby Jim Gressinger on Sep. 04, 2012, under Restaurant Reviews, Southern Arizona Mexican Restaurants
Last week a restaurant deal caught my eye. Metro Restaurants offered a “Two For One Entrée” deal over Labor Day Weekend at most of their dining establishments, including: Metropolitan Grill, McMahon’s Prime Steakhouse, Old Pueblo Grille, SMOKE, and Grill on the Green at Canoa Ranch Golf Club.
Dining Reviews Are Very Expensive
This may come as a shock to some, but reviewing restaurants is a VERY expensive job. So, I tend to look for specials offered by those I want to check out for the benefit of our Southern Arizona Guide visitors, which have been averaging 4-5,000 per month.
Of these Metro Restaurants I particularly wanted to dine at either McMahon’s or Old Pueblo Grille. It’s been perhaps 7 or 8 years since I had dinner at OPG and I didn’t remember much about it, except it was a “sorta Southwest – sorta Mexican” place that had some interesting local history and a large, very pleasant patio. Ms. Karen said she wanted to do lunch. As McMahon’s did not serve until 5 PM, it was OPG by default.
Positive vs. Negative Reviews
Nevertheless, I was cautious. Those who read our reviews know I hate writing negative ones. For one thing, Southern Arizona Guide is about the Best of Baja Arizona. And for another, I do not like saying things that may jeopardize someone’s job or diminish their livelihood. That is NOT my purpose.
That said, we are in the business of making honest recommendations and, in the 8 months since we launched our website, our visitors have come to rely on our candid reviews and 2012 List of Best Restaurants for informed dining & lodging choices.
Thus, as I usually do, I checked out a few customer reviews online. I don’t typically rely on TripAdvisor or the like because (a) there is no way to discern the standards and experience of the amateur customer reviewers and (b) there is no way to distinguish between the amateur reviewers’ positive ratings and those of professional public relations firms paid by the establishments to write glowing comments. Nevertheless, TripAdvisor gives OPG a 4 out of 5 rating. By our criteria, that is Very Good.
More important than TripAdvisor, however, I had two other pieces of information that suggested to me that OPG was going to be a good dining experience. First, right there on the Metro Restaurants website, it says they are partners with El Charro Café, one of the very few places (the original downtown) in all of Southern Arizona that has earned a 5-Saguaro rating from us. By association, Old Pueblo Grille was sure to be a great dining experience.
Second, I had already written a very favorable review of Metro Restaurant’s Metropolitan Grill on North Oracle near one of our favorite markets, Trader Joe’s. So, I made the reservation online for 1:30 PM Sunday, a very hot and humid early September afternoon.
A Fine Patio
Upon arrival, the first thing we noticed was the expansive patio in which not a soul was seated. That was understandable. So understandable that the hostess didn’t bother to ask us if we wanted indoors or patio seating. She gave us an inside table in front of the fireplace.
A Historical Building
The menu offered a few paragraphs on the history of Old Pueblo Grille. It was once a private residence with three towers and peacocks strutting their colors around the gardens.
Looking around, we could see only a few signs that this building was historical. In fact it looked like it had been remodeled fairly recently and whomever chose not to make the interior reflect its historical roots. Shame
Our waitress, who never offered her name, was polite and efficient. First, she took our drink order. One test of a good Southwest or Mexican restaurant is their margaritas. Problem was, there were no margaritas on the menus we were given; only beer & wine.
I inquired of our waitress, saying something like, “It seems odd that a place with the stature of Old Pueblo Grill doesn’t serve cocktails.” To which she replied, “Oh, just a minute, I’ll get you the cocktail menu.” A walk around this spacious restaurant after our meal revealed a very large bar area.
Ms. Karen & I both ordered margaritas. I ordered the “Cadillac” ($13.50) because I wanted OPG to show off its best … Corazon Anejo, Grand Marnier, & fresh lime juice. Ms. Karen ordered the more modest La Playa Rita ($7.50); Corazon Blanco, Blue Curacao, & fresh lime juice.
Chips & Salsa
While awaiting our drinks, we noticed something amiss. No one had brought fresh chips and salsa to our table. Assuming this was simply an oversight, when our waitress brought our drinks a few minutes later, I inquired as to this omission. We were informed that we could purchase chips & salsa for $3.95. This was very much NOT like El Charro, where fresh salsa and chips are brought to our table nearly as soon as we are seated.
Well, I had to order them because, aside from margaritas, fresh chips & salsa are key indicators of the quality of places like OPG. A basket of yellow & blue tortilla chips and a cup of “salsa” soon arrived. Only there was now a different problem. The chips were not fresh. And the salsa, if that’s what it’s called, was more like a paste one might apply to spaghetti, except it was bland.
We endeavored to enjoy, but quickly gave up after a couple of bites. The “Two For One Entree” deal was beginning to seem like not such a good deal after all. Nevertheless we persevered and ordered from the appetizer menu. Just could not resist … Rattlesnake Eggs: jalapeno peppers with cream cheese wrapped in bacon.
Seven “eggs” were served in a blue bowl on a bed of something that may have been jicama slaw. As disappointing as the chips & salsa had been, the Rattlesnake Eggs were absolutely delicious. And went well with our margaritas, which were OK … kinda on the same level as El Charro’s regular margaritas. Ms. Karen liked my “Cadillac” better than her “Rita”. For the extra $6, one would hope.
Machacas & Enchiladas
Encouraged, we ordered our entrees. She, ever the lighter diner, ordered a side of Beef Machaca and OPG salad. I wanted something more substantial and something that I might compare to similar eateries we have enjoyed. I ordered a beef enchilada, a dish I had often enjoyed at El Charro.
“Ah … we don’t actually have beef enchiladas,” our waitress told me. “But we do have a very good chicken enchilada.” I ordered a chicken enchilada, which comes with red rice and Charro beans.
We sipped on our margaritas, finished our excellent Rattlesnake Eggs, and chatted as we waited for our lunch, which didn’t take very long at all.
The presentation was OK, but certainly not like we have come to expect at Café Poca Cosa, another 5-Saguaro local dining experience. As to the food itself … well, mostly disappointing, I’m sad to report. My enchilada was, well … just an enchilada. Nothing to write home about. Ms. Karen’s OPG salad was utterly uninteresting. Perhaps she should have ordered the Caesar. However, the beef machaca was quite flavorful, which saved the meal.
That said, the OPG machaca was not of the magnitude that diners delight in at Santiago’s Mexican Restaurant in Bisbee. Santiago’s machaca by itself is worth the two-hour drive from Tucson.
With her machaca & salad, Ms. Karen had received a couple of flour tortillas on a separate plate. Recalling the fabulous, fresh-off-the-griddle, tortillas we get at Theresa’s Mosaic Café near Silverbell & Grant, I asked her if I could try one.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Yes, I’m sure. Why do you ask?” She handed me the tortilla plate without further comment.
I should have been more circumspect. Is there anything worse than stale, flavorless tortillas? Yuck!
That’s about it, folks. The best I can do for OPG is a 3-Saguaro rating: ordinary, mediocre, nothing exceptional … except the “eggs”. If you go, don’t pay extra for the margarita upgrades (as I definitely recommend at El Charro), but do order their Rattlesnake Eggs … Excellent!
Beyond these few suggestions, methinks dining on the OPG patio in pleasant weather would raise our rating to 3.5-Saguaros. We often give extra points for ambiance.
And their dinner menu has several offerings I would like to try. So perhaps we’ll return, ever optimistic, one evening in the fall. Who knows? Perhaps a pleasant evening on their delightful patio with some live music and some dishes right off their outdoor BBQ pit will earn Old Pueblo Grille a higher rating. I hope so.