Restaurant review

Mazatlan Mexican restaurants sometimes fall short

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin /

Published Oct 22, 2010 at 05:00AM

I am not a fan of the Mazatlan restaurants — not, at least, of the two where I have recently dined.

There are five associated restaurants with this name in Central Oregon: in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras.

The restaurants on the south side of Bend, and in west Redmond's Nolan Town Center complex, are pleasant enough places. Each of them has beautiful hand-painted murals of the Sinaloan countryside near Mazatlan, for instance, and service that is very prompt.

But I found the furnishings at the Bend restaurant to be in a poor state of repair, the service in Redmond to be abrupt and smileless, and the food at both establishments to be ordinary at best, poorly prepared at worst, though these experiences don't necessarily relate to the other Mazatlan restaurants I didn't try.

Dinner in Bend

When my companion and I arrived for dinner at the Bend Mazatlan, on South Third Street, the hostseated us in a booth by a window.

Red duct tape patched several tears in the vinyl seats. I noticed that the same was true in other booths. The upholstery on the seat backs was torn and tattered. Although the contemporary Spanish colonial-style decor, accented by the colorful mural and backed by piped mariachi music, could have been quite inviting, the lack of maintenance made it just the opposite.

Our server appeared pleasant and efficient, delivering chips and salsa and quickly taking our meal order. It wasn't reassuring, however, that the chips were delivered in a chipped bowl. And the salsa was very watery. I made a special request for pico de gallo to add substance to the sauce.

After delivering our entrees, the server didn't check back to ascertain if we were satisfied with our meals. My chicken mole was indeed satisfactory, but it was nothing special. The pieces of boneless chicken breast were chopped small and served in a thin mole sauce that tasted more of pumpkin seed than it did of chocolate or peanuts. The dish was served with black beans and Spanish rice.

My companion was not pleased with her carne asada. On the menu, it was listed as a house special: “Top sirloin broiled in a special way!” My friend described it quite differently: “This is just dead,” she said. Indeed, the beef was very thin, no more than a quarter-inch thick, and it was fatty and unseasoned.

There were redeeming qualities. A scoop of tasty, house-made guacamole was a complement to the steak. The serving included rice and a massive amount of refried beans, topped with melted cheddar and jack cheeses.

We found it odd that the warm tortillas served with our meals — flour for me, corn for my friend — were presented not in a basket, but between two saucers.

Lunch in Redmond

A few days later, two friends and I ventured to Redmond's Fiesta Mazatlan restaurant for a midday meal. Located in a corner of Nolan Town Center, a modern mall with a supermarket and franchise fast-food restaurants, this member of the Mazatlan group didn't suffer from poor repair issues.

Painted peach with teal accents, it featured several prominent murals — one of them a seascape of the city of Mazatlan itself — as well as a row of large, colorfully potted plants that divided the main room in two sections.

Our chips were presented in an unchipped bowl, and the salsa offered with them was blended, not watery as it had been in Bend. The order-taking and delivery was speedy.

But the server was barely cordial. In fact, he was so abrupt as to be almost rude. And after delivering our orders, he never so much as looked in our direction until he brought the bill.

I ordered a taco salad cazuela with pulled picadillo pork. Served in a fried flour-tortilla bowl with the meat on the bottom, it came with chopped iceberg lettuce, minced tomatoes, shredded cheddar and jack cheeses and dollops of sour cream and guacamole. It wasn't bad, but it was certainly basic.

One of my friends, a teen-aged boy, ordered a two-taco combination. He had one bite of a ground-beef taco in a soft flour tortilla, then pushed it aside. “It just doesn't taste good,” he said. “Taco Bell is better.” But he ate every last bite of black beans on his plate.

I stole a mouthful of a taco, and found it completely uninspired.

My young friend's mother had a tamale-and-enchilada combination. “Well,” she quipped, “it's better than a TV dinner.” Her chicken enchilada had barely a smidgen of ranchero sauce but was cloaked in cheddar cheese. And she had to search to find the pork, shrouded in masa cornmeal in the heart of her tamale.

Value in portions

The good news was that the three of us were able to dine for less than $20, thanks to Fiesta Mazatlan's “Fresco Five” promotion: six lunch specials for $5 each. At least we didn't pay an arm and a leg for mediocre food and unpleasant service.

Salvador Robles, of Redmond, is the principal owner of Central Oregon's five Mazatlan restaurants, in partnership with Salvador Galván of Portland. (Galván also owns several Mazatlan restaurants in the greater Portland area.) Neither Robles nor general manager Laura García were available earlier this week, but longtime associate Oswaldo Salcedo spoke to The Bulletin on their behalf.

“We try to distinguish ourselves from other Mexican restaurants by focusing on the family aspect,” Salcedo said. “Larger portions and better value is our target.”

Asked about the condition of upholstery at the Bend restaurant, which opened in 1992 as the first of the group, Salcedo said: “It is something they (the owners) have noted. But this being a down time, I don't know when they plan to remodel.”

SMALL BITEs

The Pronghorn Club is hosting a series of special dinners at its Chanterelle fine-dining restaurant, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with a 10 Barrel Brewing beer-pairing meal. Priced at $60, the dinner features seared scallops with a pale ale, fall salad with a Belgian-style blonde ale, rack of lamb with red ale, and chocolate mousse with 10 Barrel's Dubbel Woody brew. Next month's schedule includes wine dinners with Chateau Ste. Michelle (Nov. 20) and Va Piano (Nov. 27). 541-693-5300, www .pronghornclub.com.

Marz Bistro is now serving express lunches from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays. The limited counter-service menu features such globally inspired dishes as green Thai curry, Vietnamese “pho” (beef noodle soup), and Greek gyros with Korean steak or Indian tandoori chicken — all priced under $8, including a salad and drink. Marz is also open for dinner from 4:30 p.m. to close every day. 163 N.W. Minnesota Ave., Bend; 541-389-2025, www.marzbistro.com.

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