A familiar face

Photo By David Robert

Mexican food in the United States is a highly misunderstood cuisine. The somewhat limited menu that most of us grew up with barely begins to cover the wider range of foods actually consumed in Mexico. To sum up a whole culture on a hot plate of beans and rice seems both unfair and misleading.

Still, one has to wonder why the menu of almost every Mexican restaurant seems so similar to the one next to it. Are we, as an audience, incapable of comprehending the complexity that more authentic dishes offer? Are we so afraid to try something new? One may argue that must be the case, since few restaurateurs have seen success going out on the authenticity limb.

Miguel’s has become sort of a Reno landmark by sticking around for several generations. It is one of those places that seems to settle with age, cultivating its regulars and going about its business matter-of-factly for years. The murals on the walls have a patina of actual age, not just the affectation of it. Miguel’s, however, isn’t without a certain charm. Even the plastic water jugs, fashioned to resemble carved wooden pitchers, have taken on a campy sense of style.

My husband, Tony, and I were guided to a seat near the big window that faces Virginia Street. Several Caucasian families and a group of Asian tourists sparsely occupied the dining room. Usually, the best indicator of a good Mexican restaurant is a gaggle of rambunctious Hispanic children and their parents. There were none present that night.

The menu plays host to all the usual suspects: page after page of endless recombination of the same seven items to accommodate every possible size, if not variety, of appetites. While we mulled it over, we snacked on a basket of crunchy but cool chips and fresh, homemade salsa.

The lubricating effect of a competently made margarita slid me into an accommodating mood as I watched the early evening pedestrian traffic.

Since the inside jacket of the menu boasts that chile rellenos are a house specialty, I had to check them out. I ordered the combination that also included a ground beef taco, rice and beans ($8). The chile was wrapped in a thin egg crepe and filled with cheese. Covered with a mild red sauce, it had a good chile flavor without being in the least spicy. The taco was in a fresh, fried shell that had become a bit soft and leathery with all the moist contents. The ground beef was flavorful, and the lettuce and cheese were fresh, but the overall effect was a bit heavy and oily. The rice was almost day-glow orange and had a bit too much of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The beans were inferno hot under their blanket of cheese and lay like cement once they cooled.

Tony had better luck. He chose the steak burrito dinner ($10) that included soup or salad. He went for the albondigas (meatball) soup, which was scalding hot and contained one meatball for us to fight over. The burrito was prepared enchilada style and was covered with sauce and cheese. The tender meat inside was marinated carne asada and tasted great, as did the pinto beans. He received the same beans and rice on the side. The overall end product was tasty but very heavy.

Miguel’s will undoubtedly be around for some time to come. Change is good, but sometimes the comfort of the familiar is what keeps people coming back.