For some reason, freelance Courier-Journal reviewer Nancy Miller's previous week was "short on delights," which is why she finds her "discovery" of El Mariachi so especially "delightful." However, Miller would like readers to know that, despite the name, there are no mariachis to be found at El Mariachi. (Eater awaits her revelations at future visits to places such as Chicken King and Apocalypse Brew Works.) Miller uses the missing mariachis to foreshadow an in-depth analysis of El Mariachi's fare, writing:
It's the food that sets a rhythm that is as rife with intensity as it is with sedate nuances that give you intervals to savor the difference. Chef Jacova de Jesus Cruz's menu is stirred up with bombshells of flavor but also stumbles along the way.Unfortunately, what the reader receives is a story of "not soggy" sopes, over-sauced enchiladas, too-masa-ed tamales and much, much detail about a missing-yet-misunderstood server that still manages to earn El Mariachi 3 out of "stingy" Miller's 4 CJ stars. Possibly, it was the "magic" carne asada tacos.
Miller and son Alex decide to "jump around the menu, not thinking in terms of appetizers or entrees or side dishes," which she writes makes her dinner experience "fun" but "apparently challenged the kitchen," leading to this tale of "wine-deprived" restaurant woe:
[Alex's] sopes and tamales arrived at the table almost 15 minutes before my enchiladas and chili relleno. That would have been bad enough if I had been able to sip on a glass of wine while I waited on my food. Unfortunately, El Mariachi serves beer but not wine. Being hungry and wine-deprived, I was cranky. After what seemed like eons, the server brought my enchiladas and chili relleno. ... [a]lthough it had taken a long time to be served, it took only a second for me to realize that my meal was cold. I waited and I waited, but the server didn't return. Finally, I got up from the table and approached her to tell her my food was cold. She immediately retrieved it and returned to the kitchen. Another 15 minutes passed.Despite this setback, Miller describes her relleno, "an egg-battered poblano pepper oozing with melted cheese" as "one of life's little pleasures." As for the server who "disappeared," Miller takes pains to indicate the problems were not her fault:
Let me be clear about our server. She seemed genuinely concerned about the delay, which I am sure was not her fault. I believe she simply did not have the experience to handle the situation more smoothly.
Returning for a second visit "harried and on the run from a late lunch," Miller opts for a couple of carne asada tacos, which seem to dispel "the cloud of poor service experience" and lift El Mariachi to 3-star altitude:
Not only were the tacos delicious, but the service was great. As I was preparing to leave, the same server and I smiled at each other and exchanged a knowing look. There had been a bumpy first experience. It happens. I left happy and told her I would be back. It will be soon.