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Exploring and critiquing Calgary food through the eyes of three dysfunctional engineers
The early spring winter storm that had Calgary by its balls finally blew over leaving behind a nice sunny day. I had been eyeing Los Chilitos on 17th Ave for a while now, primarily because I am a huge tequila fan. Richard hadn’t had lunch yet, so it didn’t take too much cajoling to get him to relinquish his right hand…off the computer mouse…and come join me on this beautiful afternoon.
Walking into Los Chilitos is like being teleported to a casa in Mexico (maybe one that fancies gaudy decorations -Richard). This restaurant has arguable been the most successful of all ethnic eateries in capturing the essence of the home country. The tiny interior itself was a nice mixture of kitschy and cool – the favourite by far was the portrait Jonathan Goldsmith of The Most Interesting Man in the World fame.
Los Chilitos was surprisingly busy for a Sunday afternoon. There were only two waitresses serving all the patrons, and it was clear they were understaffed – it took our waitress a good 10 min. just to take our drink orders and we caught her taking drink orders from patrons who were seated later then when we came in. Not cool.
As this was a “tequila house,” we decided to go with straight shots of tequila like the locals do in Mexico and chase it down with sangrita – a mixture of fruit (and vegetable) juices that varies in recipe across establishments. According to the menu, everyone outside of Mexico who shoots tequila with salt and a lime wedge is a bitch and only worthy of denigration. Lesson learned.
It was hard to choose from the large selection of blanco, anejo, and reposado tequilas offered on the menu (there are 25!), but we both ended up ordering reposados, which is essentially tequila that has been aged for a minimum of 2 months (but less than a year) in oak barrels. Being a big fan of tequila, the prospect of trying out something sweeter, more complex, and subtler in taste appealed to me, and I wasn’t disappointed. The only disappointing part was the sangrita, which quite frankly, was probably V8 and nothing more.
Being only the two of us, Richard focused on ordering the main course, whilst I focused on the appetizers and dessert. The two items that caught caught our attention right away were “Jalapenos Rellenos” ($6.95) and “Totopos.” The former was an interesting take on stuffed jalapenos. These jalapenos were cut in half and stuffed with a mixture of beans and goat cheese, instead of the standard cheese stuffing, and topped off with a generous drizzle of honey-chipotle dip and toasted almonds (tasted more like peanuts to me -Richard). Cutting into the jalapenos created a sweet-savoury gooey goodness of goat cheese, beans, and honey-chipotle sauce – pretty hard to say “no” to. However, the almonds added little in the way of taste, except to add an additional dimension to the texture. Also, the runny goat cheese was weird as it oozed more like water instead of being thick and creamy.
Next up was the Totopos which was tortillas served with pico de gallo with optional sides of guacamole and four salsa samplers ($9.95). Unfortunately, while tasty, the pico de gallo was just not on the same level as when had in Mexico. This was disappointing as it is a hard dish to screw up – the secret lies in the quality and freshness of vegetables. Same went for the salsa – while good, the samplers simply didn’t have the oomph that I was expecting. However, that said, their take on the concept of salsa was interesting and warrants further consideration.
First thoughts – the sangrita totally surprised me, as for whatever reason I was expecting sangria (fruit punch with wine), but this one was definitely more on the savoury side (like a Caesar). I quite enjoyed the Aha Toro reposado, which was smooth and sweet when sipped – pretty decent for a budget tequila. I was rather tempted to order the taco sampler – which comes with one taco filled with each of the 7 different meats on their menu – but ended up settling for just the regular taco plate (4 tacos). I still wanted to have some variety though, so I ordered carnitas (pulled pork), chorizo (sausage), mixiote (chicken and prickly pear!) and pastor (adobo pork and pineapple). The meal came out in a reasonable time given the number of full tables, and the food certainly looked fantastic. Unfortunately, the taste of the food was mixed – though the tortillas were nice and soft (to the point of almost falling apart) and the cilantro fresh and flavourful, the meat was rather dry across the board. I was surprised that even the chorizo seemed dry as normally it would be on the greasy side. The rice and beans ended up being quite good (and I’m not normally a fan of beans), with just a nice touch of heat to add some depth.
To round off the meal, I ordered the very Latin tres leches cake ($6.95; literally, “three milk cake”). While the origins of this dish are disputed, the gastronomical brilliance of combining evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream cannot be. Having had home made tres leches in the past, passing up on an opportunity to try Los Chilitos’ home made version seemed egregious. Biting into the cake, I was immediately struck by the moist and fluffiness of the sponge cake. It was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The only complaint would be that it was unevenly moist – some regions of the cake were super moist and sweet, whereas others were not as soaked.
Los Chilitos has all the right things going for it – great location; authentic ambiance; and great choice/variety in food and tequila. The only let downs, albeit major ones, were the service and consistency of the food. While food was great, it wasn’t the greatest and left us lacking for more. In terms of value, I paid the same for the trio of tequila, appy’s, and dessert as Richard did for his main course, so it’s certainly not cheap on the wallet. Overall though, it is definitely a place worth visiting again, especially to sample their tequilas.
|Overall||24.5/36 = 68%|