Long ago - long ago being relative, of course - there was a Mexican restaurant in Hamilton City which was apparently the bee's knees to Hamilton City diners. The exact name of it escapes Femme de Joie just now, and after doing a brief search on the internet, apparently no one else remembers it either. But what M. de Joie does recall is that there was a fever upon the land when the word came down that this restaurant was going to expand to Redding. And so it came to pass; said restaurant built on East Cypress Avenue, not far from where the fabled and infamous El-Bo Room lived out its days. It opened and after a certain amount of time, shut the doors; M. de Joie seems to remember at least one other Mexican restaurant opened and closed in turn in the same location. For about the last 14 years, Guadalajara has held down the spot where others came and went.
Approaching Guadalajara is easiest if you're heading east on Cypress and can just swing right into the parking lot. It's trickier to slide in there from the westbound lanes, especially during the noon hour and around 5 PM, when the traffic is unforgiving and unrelenting. The interior is spacious and colorful with what appear to be large tin stars hanging from the ceiling and brightly painted chairs. Service is generally friendly and speedy.
House salad, $5.29
The basic house salad was one of the better menu items at Guadalajara. Expecting just a bowl of iceberg lettuce, we were pleasantly surprised to get fresh Romaine with grated cheese, olives, tomatoes, avocados and onions, a definite step up from the side salad at most restaurants.
Lunch special, enchilada and tamale, $8.29
A chicken tamale was quite doughy with a ponderosity of heavyweight masa corseting an shredded chicken filling. It was slow going through the doughy masa to get to the oily filling - the oil had already spread to the cornhusks, so it had plenty to spare - and the filling itself was surprisingly bland considering the oil was vividly red, presumably from chili powder. Sharing the plate was a chicken enchilada that was likewise bland and tired, like it had been up since 2 AM and just couldn't muster any enthusiasm. Refried beans were creamy but not especially flavorful; rice had odd crispy bits here and there, like it had been sitting uncovered and part had dried out while what lay beneath remained moist. It was salty.
Lunch special, chile rellano, $7.29
The chile rellano looked promising with the stem of a fresh chili poking out at one end. While the chile itself was perfectly cooked, it was swaddled in a floppy, oily batter that could be pulled off in sections similar to carpet samples. It's too bad, because to go the extra step to use a fresh chile instead of canned, but then not have the oil at the right temperature when frying is a waste of money.
Cup of albondigas soup, $3.50
Though not stated on the menu, the soups can be ordered as a cup instead of a bowl (which is a quite large serving). Albondigas soup was apparently cooked to order and it was a winner. A more-than-generous cup with two large tender meatballs, freshly cooked carrots, zucchini, and potatoes in a really delicious savory tomato-tinged broth came with a dish of cilantro, chopped onion, and one very dry lime half on the side. Whoever is making the soup knows what they're doing in terms of seasoning and timing the doneness of each ingredient.
Lunch special, chile verde burrito, $7.49
This lunch special was everything the others were not. Chile verde - tender pork cubes in a tart green tomatillo sauce - wrapped in a flour tortilla with a moderate amount of cheese melted on top was piquant and lively, as well as a bargain for the price.
Femme de Joie is of two minds about Guadalajara. Clearly it's quite popular, both with locals and with Interstate 5 travelers who rave about it in online reviews. You do get generous portions, the salsa is fresh and tasty, and it's a family-friendly place with a kiddie menu of under-$2 items. But they're missing the mark on preparations for some standard Mexican restaurant dishes. The care taken with the soup and the chile verde indicates the kitchen can deliver; M. de Joie hopes they can raise the bar and take steps to increase quality across the board.
Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant, 435 East Cypress Avenue, Redding, 96002. 530-223-2540. Open Monday-Thursday, 11:00 AM - 9:00 PM, Friday-Saturday 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM, Sunday 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM. Vegetarian and vegan options. Children's menu. No checks. Full bar. Parking lot. Website at http://www.guadalajararestaurant.net/
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 email@example.com.
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