Where: Ovalle's Mexican Cafe, 3210 Broad St.
Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.
Price range: $5 (sopes)-$13 (Carne Asada).
Diners in the Scenic City have no shortage of options when they're in the mood for Mexican food. But I'd suggest you take a break from your reliable restaurant and try Ovalle's Mexican Cafe, open for about five months on South Broad Street. Its website boasts that the chef trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and it definitely shows. The menu options, as well as the food presentation and quality, set Ovalle's apart for me.
Be prepared; you won't see chimichangas or burritos on the menu. Ovalle's offers diners unique options not available at most Mexican restaurants in town. The bulk of its menu features tortas, Mexican-style sandwiches served on bolillo bread and baked in their wood-burning oven. Also available are unique appetizers, soups, homemade desserts and one-of-a-kind fruit drinks.
Guests can start their meal with Guacamole en Molcajete ($7.99), which is handmade at your table and prepared to your taste and spice level. Also available are sopes ($5), prepared with a Mexican chorizo, Chihuahua cheese, black beans, green onion, sour cream and tomato broth.
For an entree, guests can choose among four options, such as Tablones ($13), a chipotle-braised short ribs dish; Mole ($10.50), a pan-seared chicken breast; or Enchiladas Suizas ($10.50), a vegetarian corn tortilla option. If you're in the mood for one of Ovalle's signature tortas, there are eight to choose from. Guests can try the Ahogada ($8.50), a chicken carnitas sandwich, or the Tinga ($7.99), a braised chicken sandwich.
Don't leave without dessert. Made with fresh ingredients, the Dark Chocolate Tart ($7), Almond Cake ($5) and four flavors of homemade ice cream ($5) are just a few of the options.
My wife and I were a little unsure about what to order since we weren't familiar with many of the entrees. Our apprehension was quickly dismissed by our server, who thoroughly explained the menu. We tried the Queso Flameado ($7) as an appetizer. The queso was a generous portion of thick, creamy, melted cheese, perfect for their lightly salted chips.
For our main course, I went with our server's suggestion and chose the Carne Asada ($13). My wife chose the quesadilla from the specials menu. The Carne Asada is served as a chili-rubbed, grilled skirt steak with sweet corn tamales, grilled onions and cilantro garlic sauce. If the food combination itself doesn't sound mouthwatering, believe me, it really is. The steak was superb, cooked perfectly, and the corn tamales were fabulous, almost like a sweet cornbread. My wife's quesadilla was packed with flavor, slightly spicy and served with a sauce for dipping.
To finish our meal, we chose the Cheese Flan ($6.50). Wow! Very sweet, similar to a cheesecake, the creamy dessert paired with passion fruit ice cream was delicious.
The food presentation also helped set Ovalle's apart. For instance, our rice was molded into a pyramid shape, with everything else on the plate in a distinct and purposeful place.
The restaurant does not serve alcohol.
We were greeted promptly and shown to our table. The customary chips, accompanied by a sweet salsa, were quickly delivered. The servers seemed to be particularly accommodating to guests. They offered to move a large party to another room, which they opened specifically for them, so they'd have more room. And our server handled our table and the large party without incident.
The restaurant has a nice atmosphere with lots of seating. The space is open but arranged to allow diners to have a private meal without feeling they're dining with other guests shoved right next to them.
Ovalle's is connected to the Lookout Mountain Suites motel on Broad Street, and my biggest fear is the location will discourage potential diners from experiencing a great meal with attentive service.
For those of you who pass Ovalle's each day, or if this is your first time to hear about this place, stop in and give them a try. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
Contact staff writer Patrick Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6589.