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MenuPlease at El Mariachi’s: Good Mexican at Four Corners

The spot occupied by El Mariachi’s has seen a host of restaurants come and go over the years. If Femme de Joie’s memory serves her, El Mariachi’s was previously owned by the fine folks at La Cabana and has been under the current ownership for about two years. M. de Joie ate there once shortly after the new management took over and wasn’t too impressed, but thought it was time to give it another try.

El Mariachi’s has a spacious interior with tables and booths, plus a sort of enclosed verandahseparate from the inside, where booths have a window view of Churn Creek Road. There’s a salsa bar where diners can choose from an assortment of house-made salsas (pay heed to the signs: what looks like guacamole is actually pureed jalapenos) and accompaniments like hot carrots, lime wedges, and a mixture of chopped onion and cilantro.

A flyer on the table advertised specialty tacos, including lengue (tongue), buche (pig’s stomach) and shrimp ceviche. The buche had a nice chewy texture and a mild taste, while the tongue was delicately flavored and wonderfully tender. These tacos were about half the size of Taco Bell-type tacos, each wrapped in two steamed corn tortillas, with mild salsa and chopped cilantro. Two or three of these make a lovely light lunch – or a nice appetizer for a hungrier person.

The shrimp ceviche taco was outstanding. Rock shrimp marinated in lime juice and chiles with slices of avocado atop, more lime on the side – this was one of the lightest and freshest ceviches M. de Joie has ever found.

A word here about presentation: Femme de Joie isn’t usually very concerned about how a dish looks when it comes out of the kitchen. Back in the opulent 1980s, more than enough was not enough and minimalism was shunned: gilt on lacquer on cloisonné, while food was secondary to the dishes. Then came the 1990s when “stack it high” was tres chic – from stacked Caesar salad to stacked duck-legs-on-potatoes to stacked cake/berries/cake/sauce/berries, all on gigantic stark white plates. After all that, M. de Joie does appreciate a simple-but-arresting visual. El Mariachi’s uses faux-Fiestaware, brightly-glazed dishes that give an exciting dimension and make the food really pop with color.

Taco salad is anything but Mexican – it’s strictly an American idea, and is often piled together with a surplus of bland fatty dressings like sour cream and creamy guacamole that mask the crisp salad. Taco salad served up at El Mariachi’s ($8.99) avoided the too-much-goop and was a nice balance of fresh salad, chips, shredded beef and a sprinkling of cheese atop a modest amount of sour cream. It still wasn’t what anyone could claim to be diet food, but offered a lighter option to some of the heavy dishes on the menu. Skip the dressings and go easy on the chips, and this could almost be healthy.

At Femme de Joie’s request, a tangy salsa verde was substituted on chicken enchiladas ($8.99) in place of the usual red sauce (which to her taste seems more appropriate on strongly-flavored fillings like beef or pork). The chicken enchilada plate (with rice and beans) might be thought of as an old reliable – maybe not the most exciting version you ever tried, but no-fail and dependable – comfort food. As noted above, El Mariachi’s goes easy on the sour cream toppings, which lets you taste delicate ingredients and textures.

Chicken mole, $7.99. The menu did say the mole sauce was “sweetish” – a bit toosweet for M. de Joie’s taste. But the smooth textured mole with hints of chocolate and chiles was too intriguing to ignore. Solution: a sprinkling of the chopped onion-cilantro relish from the salsa bar added a nice crunchy element and tamed the sweetness.

El Mariachi’s isn’t far from a chain Mexican restaurant but here you won’t be asked to slam a tequila shooter and yell, “Yee-ha!” This isn’t that kind of place. Service is quick, friendly, efficient, and accommodating. M. de Joie recommends El Mariachi’s as a casual neighborhood restaurant to enjoy a low-key meal and not break the bank. Family-friendly.

El Mariachi’s, 2914 Churn Creek Road, Redding, 96002. 530-224-1847, fax 530-221-8116. Open Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 10:00 AM-9:00 PM, Friday and Saturday, 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Beer and wine; wine cocktails. Vegetarian options. On-site parking. Cash, cards.

Femme de Joie’s first culinary masterpiece was at age 4, when she made the perfect fried bologna sandwich on white bread. Since then she has dined on horse Bourguignon in France, stir-fried eel in London, and mystery meat in her college cafeteria, but firmly draws the line at eating rattlesnake, peppermint and Hamburger Helper. She lives in Shasta County at her country estate, Butterscotch Acres West. She is nearly always hungry. Visit MenuPlease for more.

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