When there are more energy drinks than actual food scattered across the dining table, it may be a sign to peel away from the computer and venture out for some real sustenance other than Girl Scout cookies. But when it comes to dining options around UCR, it’s either a meatball sub from Subway for the fifth time this week or load up the car and prepare for an adventure. I did just that and traveled to what seemed like East Jesus Nowhere. After we finished eating at Anchos Southwest Grill, however, I questioned if the expedition itself was really worth it.
Now I knew that picking Anchos Southwest Grill, located at 10773 Hole Avenue and past Tyler Galleria, it wouldn’t just be a hop, skip and a jump. I don’t know if it was the sun that peaked perfectly through the clouds, or if my hunger had turned into delusion, but when we arrived, the pueblo-style restaurant had a glow around it. Closer to the entrance, I noticed bundles of ancho chiles hanging from the wooden spokes that stuck out from the roof while paper lanterns lined the patio seating. The outside transported us to Albuquerque, N.M.
The aroma of fresh flour tortillas seeped through the open door. We made our way through the large room, filled with tables and chatter that surrounded the tortilla machine. A woman in a folklorico dress patted masa (tortilla dough) and worked the machine for every guest to salivate over as they waited for their chips and salsa. Once I realized that each table also got complimentary tortillas, straight from the fire — with butter — I cracked my knuckles and prepared to dive in. Nothing can compare to homemade tortillas. I ripped it from my teeth and the flour brushed against my lips. The butter glided across the warm and thick texture and added to the richness. By the time I was four tortillas in, I finally took a glimpse at the menu.
While munching and searching, I tried the salsa … which was somewhat peculiar. Instead of tomatoes, it used roasted tomatillos and chiles. At times, I found it quite bland, as it lacked spice and other flavors other than tomatillos. I also appreciate a strong kick in my salsa, while Anchos’ salsa was barely a flick.
I asked the waitress what was more popular on the menu, to which she answered the carne asada. Being the frugal — some say cheap — person I am, I glanced at the price to find the uncut skirt steak priced at $22.50. I wondered how many other customers the restaurant suckered into spending that much on the “popular item.” A friend of mine happened to be one of the suckered customers, ordering the steak at medium rare. I ordered the chicken enchiladas “Christmas style,” which is half red and green sauce. Photo Editor Vincent Ta then ordered the “number three”: a beef taco, beef enchilada and tamale. By the time the second tortilla warmer reached the table, we questioned if the smorgasbord we just ordered was too much.
Keeping the bar as high as the homemade tortillas had set it at, I dug into one of the three enchiladas. The green sauce was made of tomatillos with subtle jalapeno: pretty standard. The red sauce completely outdid the other, as the ancho chilies used were prominent throughout. Juicy, shredded chicken was wrapped in a soft, corn tortilla and topped with sour cream and tomatoes. But by the time I was halfway through the second enchilada, I found the plate quite tired. The entree came with a side of Spanish rice and a cup of beans. With one bite of the rice, I heard a “crunch” — rice is not supposed to be crunchy. Wilted parsley was woven through the rice and prepared with chicken bullion, which was completely bland. Needless to say, I didn’t touch the rice after that. The beans were interesting as they had a barbecue bean taste with hickory and a sweet quality. I was not sure if this style of beans tied together well with the dish.
“This is the first time I have had a real tamale!” Vincent said, as he pulled off the corn husks that wrapped around the tamale. I took a bite of the masa, which tasted as if canned creamed corn was the foundation of the dough. In the center, a sliver of a piquillo pepper rested on top of melted monterrey jack cheese. It was too overly sweet to be considered a cheese tamale. I responded to Vincent’s astonishment, “You still haven’t.”
Poking the carne asada in the pool of its blood, it was clear that the steak was very rare. It had a great smoky flavor, but was way too rare for my taste, and way too rare to pass as medium rare. Even though the main course was subpar, we still shifted in our seat and contemplated the meaning of life as we stared into space in a food coma from trying everything on the table.
The trip back to campus seemed a little shorter and with many more burps. My to-go box consisted a bible-sized stack of tortillas and the one sad enchilada. The tortillas may have set the bar a little too high for Anchos Southwest Grill, but at least I got one good thing out of it.