Tuesday, November 1, 2011


RoMo's Café
7627 Culebra, Suite 107
(at Ingram Road)

The local campus of the Culinary Institute of America has been putting out graduates for a while now, but Rob Yoas is the first alumnus of that campus, that I know of, to open a restaurant locally. He and his wife Monica (who, I understand, is an on-camera talent on one of the local Spanish-language stations) have put this interesting little place into a strip center out beyond Ingram Mall. 

CIA grads have something of a reputation for quality, and the success of some who have been through the program at the New York or California locations allow the school to bask in their reflected glow. If it is "just" a trade school, it's a prestigious one, and one that shows what trade schools can aspire to. This country could use more such trade schools.

The space chosen for this culinary venture is airy, with its very high ceiling painted dark red, its wainscoting and dark furniture set off against light yellow-tinted walls. The décor has a warmth to it that is only mildly disturbed by the two gigantic projection television screens (and five smaller flat-panel sets) that cover three sides. While they seem grossly out of place in a "refined but casual" restaurant, they are, mercifully, placed high enough on the walls that they don't continually assault your vision; even better, they were all turned off.

I was more than a little surprised to find the place so sparsely attended. Contrary to our normal practice, we had waited until seven o'clock to leave home for dinner (to let that awful Loop 410 traffic die down), and arrived at what should have been well into a peak part of the Friday night dinner rush; but there were only three or four tables occupied. And while it had picked up some by the time we left, my impression afterwards is that this place deserves to enjoy the same kind of fashionable buzz as any of the other snob-appeal places in town. It ought to be packed, despite its unfashionable suburban strip-center location.

The waiters on duty — only two, both also named Rob — were attentive and capable. The one whose table we were at seemed tentative, as though he were very new to this table-waiting business, but he had the virtue of not guessing at answers to our questions. If he didn't know, he found out. He was able to give us full information about the unusual food on offer, and was very helpful in our decision making; which was particularly good, because there were so many intriguing things on the menu. I agonized over the sandwiches and entrées on the menu, and on the specials board near the entrance; it was a chore to finally make a choice, but in the end I chose the duck and gator tacos, paired with a Shiner hefeweizen; my wife went with pasta in vodka sauce, with some kind of red wine. I have no interest in red wine so I can't tell you the first thing about it.

Last city inspection: September 2011
A perfect score!
The gator taco was chunks of tail meat (and no, it doesn't taste like chicken; it tastes like gator) that seemed to have a light, seasoned breading on them, served in a flour tortilla with some kind of light sauce and a few familiar vegetable accoutrements. That doesn't sound like much, but it may have been the best taco I've ever eaten. It was certainly the best alligator meat I've ever eaten, much better than I can fix at home (and I take some small snobbish pride in being the only person I know who actually has prepared alligator at home, though not for many years). The only thing that kept it from being perfect was that the oil from the duck taco had coated the outside of the tortilla, making it feel unpleasant to hold.

The duck taco was also purdy damn good: a portion of delicious meat topped with a dollop of veggies and a thin ribbon of something white. (I don't remember, now, what it was. Yogurt? Sour cream? Ricotta cheese? Whatever it was, it was good.) Except for the afore-mentioned oil, that dripped off the taco and infested the other tortilla, the dish was exquisite in its flavour and texture.

The vodka sauce on the pasta was light, nicely coloured and tasty. There were chunks of what looked like minced garlic in the mix, and the sauce was unevenly distributed over the pasta. (That's a good thing, actually: it shows that the kitchen isn't taking easy shortcuts, by pre-mixing and re-warming the dish. Of course, in a house that is trying to establish a reputation as a premier-class venue — a distinction well within its grasp — such shortcuts would be shocking and untenable anyway.) The pasta was appropriately al dente, who is rather hard to satisfy on that point. She was quite satisfied. The only downside to the pasta dish was the rather drab piece of French bread served with it, which stuck out like a Kia Rio in the parking lot at Bill Gates's wedding.

RoMo’s Cafe on UrbanspoonThis wonderful meal was topped off by a serving of pastel imposible, a traditional Mexican cake. In RoMo's variation, the cake is more an English tea cake than the traditional smooth chocolate cake popular down South. It is served with a rich, sweet cream sauce, and one slice should satisfy two sweet tooths.

RoMo excels in value as well. Food of this calibre is normally priced noticeably higher, yet even with a glass of wine and a bottle of beer, we managed to get out for well under $45, well below average on our weekly excursions into the world of restaurant cuisine. That, my friends, is really impressive.


  1. I must have been there the same night and had the tacos - they were excellent as you said.

    I work in the vicinity and try to go to RoMo's at least once a week for lunch. I've had dinner there a couple times and the attendance at lunch is probably larger than at dinner. This is one of the few (maybe only) restaurants in the area that doesn't server fast food (franchise), Tex-Mex, or Oriental food. It's a welcome alternative and I hope is thrives because the food is excellent, and the service is friendly & attentive.

    I like to spend my lunch and dinner at restaurants that are locally-owned so the money stays in the community. RoMo's worth a trip to the upper West side. You won't be disappointed.

  2. D C CastilloNovember 08, 2011

    After reading your review, I went to this place for lunch earlier this week. You were absolutely right, this place is a REAL TREASURE! Great food, great service, very comfortable atmosphere, and really great prices for what you get. Had the philly cheese steak sandwich. 5 stars out of 5! Can't understand why it's not crammed with people waiting for a table, but sure am glad it isnt.

  3. Thank you for the recommendation to try out RoMo's. We loved it. Check out my review here. I gave you a shout out! :)


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