I was one of the many Little Mexico Cafe fans who couldn't wait for her grand reopening after the devastating fire that hit this west side Grand Rapids joint about a year and a half ago. So her doors finally opened to the public two weeks ago and just like many of her loyal patrons, I waited in line nearly for half an hour to get a table for lunch. Well, was it worth the wait? Maybe...
I must admit that I had hopes that the owners of Little Mexico would really take advantage of the reconstruction and create a better designed space from its former compartmentalized layout of small, dark dining rooms and smoky bar. While the former space was perhaps, part of the charm of the restaurant, the new space is completely void of that "rustic" charm. The waiting area was bare, cold and resembled an apartment building entrance. The large dining room (pictured above) featured a new set of murals which fit the restaurant perfectly, however, I question the choice of painting life size, bare breasted women on the wall next to my booth. Just like the entrance, the main dining room lacked warmth with banquet style tables and window treatments more fitting an office installation than a restaurant. The new bar, unfortunately, was uninviting and resembled a basement bar. The only refreshing part of the restaurant was the one room not affected by the fire (pictured below). The room has history and character.
Jimmy Le joined me again on this blog expedition. We both shared a good laugh sitting next to the breasts on the wall. When we asked the server what the house specialty was, he answered, "I don't know." So much for excitement about the opening.
Now to the food.
A Mexican restaurant must have good chips and salsa. The chips were as good as before. The salsa, on the other hand, was bland and the consistency was more like a tomato sauce than salsa. We didn't go through our chip basket.
Jimmy ordered the fajita, and thank goodness, it was good! Nice and crispy beef with fresh cilantro and sauteed peppers and onions. My enchilada and chimichanga combo plate was just okay. It is something I would normally never order because I don't like enchiladas, but for some reason, I thought this was going to be different. The combo plate was definitely filling, but lack any depth in flavors.
When I got back to the office, I texted Jimmy to ask if he smelled like a burrito - because I certainly did. "LOL," Jimmy confirmed that he did too.
Just like an over-hyped movie, I left empty handed. I was hoping for a wonderfully designed Mexican restaurant I could confidently take my foreign friends to. Instead, I was longing for the old, west side, smoky dive we all fell in love with.
But I will be back. All restaurants deserve a second chance. Sometimes, even a third.
The sizzling fajita plate
The dining room that was spared by the fire
The new bar