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Menu Please: Mazatlan Grill – Well, cover me with guacamole and call me Sally

Longtime Redding residents will remember the old Italian Cottage on Hilltop Drive, pre-dating even the Mount Shasta Mall. Sawdust was piled high enough on the floor to get in your shoes, they put an olive in your beer, and the minestrone had hard vegetables mixed with squashy ones. Femme de Joie has fond memories of trying to fit a small group of friends into one of those corner booths without getting jabbed by the sharp table corner; she remembers even more fondly the pastrami sandwich. Italian Cottage morphed into Corina’s; when that closed, the building lay vacant and unloved for years, increasing amounts of trash gathering in the dead landscaping, until a Mexican restaurant-cum-tequila bar opened a few years ago and closed again last year.

Now Mazatlan Grill lives in the old Italian Cottage spot. There are a lot of  restaurants named Mazatlan Grill in the US but this one is independently owned and operated. Spacious and airy inside, the decor is bright, fresh and cheerful, with patio seating available. M. de Joie’s first visit was after the lunch hour, where she pretty much had the entire place to herself. Staff – who are efficient and friendly in a perfunctory way – greeted her immediately. The menu is lengthy and not easy to read, with one of those cutesy fonts that make you squint.

Femme de Joie ordered a margarita, which came within 30 seconds of the waiter taking the order. Is there a giant margarita truck in back with a hose hooked up to the bar? It had to have come from a bucket or hose to be delivered that fast. It was quite sweet. The standard chips-in-a-basket plus salsa were put on the table. While the salsa was adequate, the chips seemed to have been around since the first “Star Wars” movie came out.

Shrimp enchiladas ($14.99, though the menu read $13.49)

When the shrimp enchiladas were placed on the table, a waiter made a point of smiling broadly and saying, “Senorita, I am so jealous of you!” which confused Femme de Joie. “That looks so good!” It was at that moment that M. de Joie had a flashback to Papa de Joie, who suffered no fools gladly and would snap, “Ya wanna bite?” when dealing with a fatuous remark like that  However, she restrained herself from doing the same.

The menu description of the shrimp enchiladas read that they were covered in “creamy sauce made with tomatillos.”  There may have been a tomatillo present in the kitchen when the sauce was made, but none made it into the cheesy creamy sauce.  If the tortilla chips had been around since the first Star Wars movie, the shrimp in the enchiladas had been languishing in the freezer since the first “Star Trek” television series.

Chimichanga, $8.99

M.de Joie’s second visit was during the lunch hour proper, and once again there was a shortage of other customers. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but under that sour cream and guacamole is a chile verde chimichanga. It was on her table precisely four minutes after she ordered it. The bottom of the chimichanga had a little crispness from a very brief encounter with a frying surface, but the top – beneath that blanket of goo – was unfried tortilla. Inside was a lot of shredded pork and no verde. Well, that isn’t quite true – after prodding around, Femme de Joie spotted a thin, thin layer of something green in a fold of tortilla, but it didn’t seem to have any taste. There was certainly none of the green sauce that one associates with chile verde. In fact, there was nothing inside the tortilla – excusez-moi, the chimichanga – except plain unseasoned shredded pork.

Burrito Panchito Deluxe, $8.99

Femme de Joie was a bit surprised on her third visit to actually be among other customers. Where had they been before? No matter. She ordered Burrito Panchito Deluxe with chicken. Unlike her previous meals delivered at the speed of sound, it took a good ten minutes to arrive. She isn’t sure what was Deluxe about it. The filling was a lot of shredded chicken with nothing else, no sauce, no seasonings, though as with the chimichanga there was a surplus of sour cream and guacamole. The guacamole worried her a little, as it had that color she associates with guacamole seen in the freezer section of supermarkets.

What to conclude about Mazatlan? It’s all over the place. Those elderly shrimp shouldn’t have been served at all. Pork and chicken fillings were tender and moist but utterly without any taste. Sides of rice and beans were just taking up space on the plate – nothing to recommend them or not recommend them; the diner eats them because they come with the meal, not because they’re delicious. Waitstaff is efficient and polite. Some people may love getting their food so fast, but M. de Joie wonders what is going on in the kitchen that one meal takes four minutes and a virtually identical one takes ten. While Mazatlan Grill is inoffensive, she thinks there is better Mexican food for your dollar elsewhere.

Mazatlan Grill, 1630 Hilltop Drive, Redding, CA 96002. 530-223-2454. Open Sunday-Thursday 11 AM – 10 PM; Friday & Saturday 11 AM – 11 PM. Cards, cash; no checks. Full bar. Children’s menu. Patio dining. Vegetarian options. Parking lot.

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 or send her an email at femmedejoiefood@yahoo.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Chamberlain, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of