The restaurant is located in a strip mall across from Woodland Mall. We’ve tried it once before and many people rave about it. From what we could find out, it’s not a national chain but it felt like one with its nondescript decor. The room is large; tables and booths wrap around and there are a couple of semi-private dining areas enclosed in the front and the rear of the restaurant. It was crowded but there was no waiting. We were brought to our table and hot on our heels was a server with chips and salsa; salsa was thin and without much flavor.
Another server appeared immediately to take our beverage order, and returned quickly to take our food order. We had barely scanned the menu and told him we needed a few more minutes. This was the first time we made this mistake. Twenty minutes later he came back to take our appetizer order. When that was delivered, he wanted to take our lunch order but we weren’t ready. Yes, our second mistake.
Appetizer selections consisted mainly of nachos and dips, so we chose choriquesadillas, which ended up being our favorite part of the meal. Two soft tortillas stuffed with chorizo and cheese, served with lettuce (way too much), sour cream, and guacamole were not very spicy but were still nicely done.
Besides appetizers, the menu offered kids’ plates, quesadillas, specials, favorites, fajitas, seafood, twenty-five combination plates, vegetarian dishes, eight different burritos, and ten lunch specials. In addition, on most tables stood a paper menu with daily specials: each day of the week has a featured dish and drink.
The menu is too big, and having specials and favorites as separate categories is just confusing. We went with “favorite” items and the first was the “special dinner.” It seemed like a good choice since it offered five different items to taste, accompanied by rice and beans. First up, a chalupa - a lame tostada without meat. Second, a burrito, ordered with beef and beans that arrived without beans. Third, enchilada. Fourth, beef taco, and last, a tamale, the worst of the bunch. The cornmeal wrapping was bland and mushy, poor flavor and texture. Everything else was improved with some hot sauce (chile habanero).
Our second dish was fried chimichangas: two flour tortillas with chicken (recommended by our server), served with beans, lots of lettuce, one tasteless tomato, sour cream, and guacamole. Again, a huge serving but needing hot sauce.
So to summarize: tortillas are good, beans are heavily salted, food is otherwise bland, quantities are vast, prices are low, and service is intended to rush you in and out. If this is what you like, and you like Little Mexico, you’ll love El Arriero.