311 North New Braunfels Avenue
(a couple of blocks south of Houston Street)
A small bit of business required my presence on the East Side yesterday, and as is my custom I made it an opportunity to sample a new restaurant in that part of town. The North Side may have a near monopoly on upscale glitz and trendiness, but the other parts of town are home to innumerable excellent small restaurants featuring any number of cuisines. My mood, however, mandated Tex-Mex or, as we loosely call it in these parts, Mexican food.
San Antonio is justly famous for Mexican food. There is, to be sure, an increasing number of excellent Mexican restaurants in other parts of the country, especially at the high end, but no other place in the USA can touch San Antonio for the sheer number of good taquerias and enchilada houses. They are scattered across this city like tinsel on a Christmas tree decorated by small children. And even within the genre of Mexican food, there is variety based on the origin of the kitchen's mastermind. Most people don't appreciate it — most of us go just to eat and enjoy and leave. We are Neanderthals most of the time. Even I, the Curmudgeon-About-Town, have been known to just eat and not appraise.
Well. It would have been a good idea, maybe, if I'd taken that approach at Angelica's.
We arrived at the height of the lunch rush. We thought it was a good sign that the parking lot was just about full. Imagine our surprise when we walked in and found the place all but empty. Seems there was some kind of sales meeting going on in their private dining room, which accounted for all the cars out front.
The menu was unremarkable: breakfast on one side, lunch on the other. A quick scan told us that the prices were unremarkable as well, which is generally a good thing.
I suspect that the waitress was new to the job. When my companion ordered beef fajita nachos, she had to copy it off the menu. I made life simple for her by asking for the Daily Special, which on Mondays is steak mexicana. She acted as though she had never heard of it, even though it's a regular enough Monday special to be printed right there on the laminated menu card. We both went for ice tea.
The tea arrived first, two Texas tumblers filled with sweet tea that had that unmistakable tang of Lipton's. You either like it, or you don't, or you don't care. I don't care. I don't generally drink iced tea (though I had it again today, elsewhere, so I'm on something of a binge, I suppose), and Lipton's is fine with me. I do realize, however, that there is a fringe group of foodies out there who believe that artisanal ice tea is an art form to be sought out. They will not appreciate the tea at Angelica's.
Next to arrive was a bowl of chips and salsa. The chips were on the thick side, and still warm from the fryer (or maybe a heat lamp) and not too greasy, but neither were they especially flavourful. Let's just call them routine. The salsa was better than that, but still was nothing special. A shame, really; it's so easy for Mexican restaurants to entice return business with a notable bowl of salsa.
My friend's nachos arrived in good time. He politely waited for my food to arrive, despite my recommendation that he begin. He eats so much slower than I do (everyone does) that it's well he had a head start.
Some time later the waitress put in front of me a plastic basket containing one crisp taco. I looked at it and tried to recall what I'd ordered. Off the top of my head I couldn't remember but I was pretty sure it wasn't a single taco. In a moment it came to me, and I informed the waitress that I had ordered the steak mexicana. She looked at me as though, again, she had never heard of the dish. "The daily special," I said, wondering if maybe English was not in her purview. I tried to think of the Spanish for "daily special," but since much of my rusting command of that language comes from ordering in Mexican restaurants, where the accepted phrase is "el daily special," I was at something of a loss. But she took the taco away and left with a quizzical expression before I could complete the task of mentally translating the phrase.
At this point my companion decided to eat, and bless him, he offered me some. So I got to try the beef fajita nachos.
In the world of nachos, there seem to be two schools of thought: one, that the nachos should be carefully laid out, the chips precisely touching or evenly spaced, with a dollop of each ingredient carefully centered on the chip; the other, that the ingredients should form sort of a mound or jumble, filling the plate higgledy-piggledy in a sort of culinary riot. I personally prefer the latter, and so does the kitchen at Angelica's. It was a large platter covered with a veritable pile of chips dosed with refried beans, peppers, onions and seasoned meat, and decorated with one mound of guacamole and another of sour cream.
|Last city inspection: February 2010|
They were fair. Nothing remarkable. The chips were the same not-quite-flavourful ones that had filled the bowl of tostadas; there was a smear of beans and lots of green pepper and enough onion, and the meat was a reasonably good cut reasonably well seasoned. The guacamole was good, the sour cream perfectly ordinary. Yet overall the nachos lacked flavour. They cannot be described as bland; nothing in Mexican cookery is bland; that's why I like it so much. They were just ... limp.
My food eventually arrived. The steak was a good cut of meat, cut in very small strips and finely prepared; the sauce was tasty and had good body. The rice and beans that accompanied the dish were, like so much else, unremarkable. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to find number-ten cans of Gebhardt's refried beans in the kitchen dumpster. The corn tortillas I'd requested were made of flour, and not, I suspect, in the kitchen. Well, they were okay, too.
I don't know how long Angelica's has been around on New Braunfels Avenue, but overall, I'd say I regret having passed up three or four other taquerias on the way there. It was, after all, six or eight blocks out of my way, and that, it turns out, was a waste of precious gasoline.