Mazatlán Mexican Restaurant

Food: () Mostly excellent, although some food is not as fresh as it might be.

Service: () Staff is prompt and friendly throughout the dining experience.

Atmosphere: () Contemporary Spanish colonial decor is subdued but inviting.

More Info

Location: 61419 S. U.S. Highway 97, Bend. Other locations in Redmond, Prineville and Madras.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cuisine: Mexican

Price range: Lunch $8.95 to $18.95; dinner entrees $8.95 to $26.95

Credit cards: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

Kids’ menu: Eight meals priced $6.25 for ages 10 and under

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Numerous choices, including a poblano chili relleno

Alcoholic beverages: Fully licensed

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: Requested for large groups

Contact: www.mazatlancentraloregon.com, 541-385-8772

For more area restaurant reviews, visit www.bend bulletin.com/restaurants

There are five associated Mazatlán Mexican restaurants in Central Oregon — two in Redmond and one each in Bend, Madras and Prineville. The Bend restaurant flies under the radar.

Hidden off S. Third Street behind Richard’s Donuts & Pastries, this modest establishment has improved substantially in the seven years since I last visited.

Maintenance is no longer a problem, as it was in 2010. Rather than torn vinyl patched with duct tape, the booths lining both sides of the main dining room display upholstery that’s well cared for. Contemporary Spanish colonial-style decor, accented by colorful murals and a track of Mexican music, is subdued but inviting.

Food and service have also stepped up. On each of three recent visits at different lunch and dinner hours, I’ve been warmly greeted and promptly seated by a young man or woman who has proceeded to take my order and serve me. A glass of ice water and a basket of tortilla chips were delivered along with sides of spicy red salsa and savory bean dip. And my servers checked back often during my meal to assure that I was pleased with my food and had everything I needed.

Carne and pollo

The food at my meals wasn’t spectacular, but it was sufficiently palate pleasing. My dining companion joined me for dinner one evening and enjoyed her favorite Mexican entree, a plate of carne asada ($18.50).

Charbroiled medium rare, the skirt steak was tender and not at all gristly. It was served with sides of pico de gallo — chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro — and creamy guacamole, made in-house.

My first inclination was to try Mazatlán’s chicken mole. I’m a big fan of this savory sauce, which balances chili peppers with semisweet chocolate, blended peanuts and pepitas (or sunflower seeds). Ingredients vary regionally, so I inquired with our server what variation I might find here. Perhaps a little confused, she revealed that she didn’t know because the restaurant purchases pre-made mole.

So I changed my choice to another chicken dish, pollo a la chipotle ($17.95). And I wasn’t disappointed. Chopped breast of poultry was sauteed with onions, mushrooms and green bell peppers and served in a cream-based sauce of chipotle, a mildly spicy chili pepper with residual smokiness. It was finished with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Both meals came with beans and rice; both were better than I’ve had at many other establishments. The refried beans were of perfect consistency, and the Spanish-style rice was moist and light.

Chiles rellenos

On a pair of solo visits, I had chiles rellenos of very different types.

A dinnertime special was a seafood chile relleno ($14.95). My server promised me that Mazatlán uses real crab, not imitation crustacean. And in fact the crab was good, as was the white fish (perhaps snapper?) in the stew.

But the little bay scallops were rubbery, the medium-size shrimp chewy, and there was an overall fishy flavor to the plate. Although that taste was partially offset by a creamy sauce incorporating chopped tomatoes and onions, and half of a sliced avocado topped the dish, I wouldn’t order it again.

I did, however, thoroughly enjoy a poblano chile relleno ($10.95) from the lunch menu. It cost $1 more than a relleno-and-enchilada combination lunch, but my server convinced me of its better value: The lower-priced chile was pre-battered, he said, while the poblano pepper was made fresh.

And indeed it was a savory mouthful, albeit filled with nothing more than melted queso cheese. What’s more, at this meal I was able to substitute black beans for the standard refritos, and they contributed substantially to my chile’s flavor.

From Jalisco

The Mazatlán group of restaurants, which number 15 including those in Central Oregon, were founded in 1985 by the family of Salvador Galván. The Galváns settled in the Portland area after leaving their home village of Cuautla in Mexico’s Jalisco state, between Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta.

They opened their first restaurant in Tigard in 1985, and added the Bend location in 1992. Galván’s longtime associate, Salvador Robles of Redmond, is the principal owner of the restaurants in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras.

Curiously, none of the restaurants’ founders are from Mazatlán, a resort city in the state of Sinaloa some 250 miles from Guadalajara. One might easily guess the coastal community’s name was conferred for purposes of name recognition.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com.

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