7101 Bandera Road
(in Leon Valley, just beyond Huebner Road)
The area along Bandera Road beyond Loop 410 was not always the expanse of commercial squalor it is now. The present corporate ghetto-in-progress was once an area much like present-day Sisterdale or Kendalia: hills and trees bifurcated by a lightly-used country highway, dotted with occasional small frame houses and limestone cottages.
This small Tex-Mex restaurant inhabits one such small frame house, a relict of that not-so-distant time when Leon Valley was a country town some miles from The City. Ah, progress. Well.
By the standards that seem to reign beyond the Loop, El Palmito is one of the better cocinas I've found. (This blog began, in fact, out of my exasperation at being unable to find good breakfast tacos outside of 410.) Today's business in that seldom-visited part of town got me to my seat in El Palmito too late for breakfast tacos, but man doth not live by tacos alone.
There are two dining rooms at El Palmito, each the size of a room in a small house; the sort of house hundreds of thousands of San Antonians grew up in. Each one is about a hundred square feet, and though they are spic-and-span and nicely renovated, and furnished with new tables and chairs and, of course, the ubiquitous television set on the wall, you can still feel the iron bedstead, the night stand, the chest of drawers with its little statue of Jesus or candle decorated with Our Lady of Guadalupe, depending on whether the original inhabitants were Germanic or Hispanic. There's also an equally small patio, just big enough for two tables with a view of the unrelenting traffic.
I was all primed to order a bowl of fideo loco, which I would have regretted, when the very cheerful waitress mentioned that one of the Lenten specials on offer (there were five) was chile relleno, and that it came with a cup of fideo. My compadre, after a prolonged study of the menu, went with his usual lunch order of enchiladas verdes. We were promptly served with chips, salsa, and ice tea, and passed the interval amusing ourselves ridiculing what passes for news on the Missing Blond Chick channel, formerly Headline News Network. The chips were good, the salsa was very good, and it wasn't a long wait.
The fideo was only so-so, no better. A little on the salty side, I thought, but I may just be grousing because it didn't have the meat and beans that change fideo into fideo loco, and I was thinking of that. Let's just call it acceptable. The chile relleno had a slightly oily egg batter on it, and the filling was unusually fine, giving it a somewhat mushy texture but not diminishing the good flavour of meat, potatoes and seasonings. I was pleased that the kitchen had not sought to conceal shortcomings with an excess of overly-sharp cheese; there was just enough white cheese on the top to impart that mellow flavour. Overall, the dish was not artistry by any standard, but good enough to satisfy. The refried beans had an unusual dark colour and an unusually mild flavour; the rice was well made but had been too long in the pot, and was on its way to being mushy as well. In another hour, it may not have passed muster.
I wish I could say something about the enchiladas verdes, but I happened to divert my glance for a moment and they disappeared, untasted by me.