Bountiful Mexican

El Doradito's fare is generally enjoyable—just like that at many other southside joints

You'd think there is some sort of Arizona law making it illegal for any Mexican restaurant on the southside to serve bad food. Yeah, there are a few violators—as the saying goes, laws are meant to be broken—but the vast majority of southside Mexican joints seem to abide.

El Doradito (also called El Dorado, or El Dorado Tortilla Factory, depending on where you're looking), on South Park Avenue between Irvington Road and Fair Street, follows this law (albeit with a crushingly notable exception), if our two visits are an accurate representation. However, I can't really recommend El Doradito; after all, the place is surrounded by equally good and better Mexican restaurants, in my humble opinion.

Take our dinner visit as an example. We walked in on a recent weekday evening, and for much of the visit, we had the entire restaurant to ourselves, save the presence of one man who was dining on a large seafood cocktele (cocktail) of some sort. The server told us we could sit anywhere we wanted, and we plopped down in a booth on the northern side of the restaurant, underneath an impressive wall mural depicting various Hopi characters. (We sat beneath Sa'lakwmana, for what it's worth.) The building has two distinct rooms, with a service counter (where people can pick up menudo and other tasty treats to go) and the kitchen in between; the room on the southern side has a buffet area and a salad bar, for weekday lunches and weekend breakfasts. The restaurant offered up a clean, tidy and charmingly aged appearance (although a few persistent flies tried to help themselves to some of our dinner). It's a pleasant, homey place.

We had a tough time deciding what to order, in part because the menu is rather large, packed with all the Mexican food you'd expect to find, plus a rather extensive seafood selection; even breakfast is offered ($5.75-$6.95). We finally decided to split the aperitivo El Dorado (a sampler appetizer plate, $8.95). I selected the mole poblano, listed as one of the restaurant's specialties ($8.25), while Garrett ordered a fish dish, the filete al diablo ($11.25).

We munched on the chips and salsa (a blended red variety that was tasty, with just the perfect amount of heat thanks to an ample amount of pepper seeds) until the appetizer plate arrived. As promised on the menu, the fare included four mini flautas, and four mini chimichangas, along with a flour/cheese quesadilla, guacamole and sour cream. However, the menu said the flautas would contain shredded beef, and the chimis would have chicken; I saw beef in at least one of the chimis, and Garrett swears he had chicken in a flauta. That's fine; all was delicious, especially the chicken chimis, which included shredded meat and bits of vegetables, like peppers and celery. Yum. My only complaints: The flautas tended toward dryness, and there wasn't nearly enough guacamole.

Then came the entrées—and, with them, problems. While Garrett ordered the filete el diablo—and even asked for it to be extra hot—he received the filete al mojo de ajo ($10.95) instead. He went ahead and ate the filet, which was absolutely covered with minced garlic; while it was tasty, he was disappointed about missing out on the filete al diablo. Garrett used the accompanying salad (lettuce, carrot, tomatoes and celery) to mute the ample garlic, without much success. The accompanying rice was fairly standard fare.

My mole poblano was, to be frank, terrible. For one thing, the "whole chicken breast" promised on the menu was actually various random chicken bits. This would have been forgivable had the sauce been good, but it was downright awful: There was no hint of pepper, and only the slightest inkling of chocolate. The dominant flavor in the watery sauce was ... well, nothing. I focused on enjoying the rice, beans and tortillas that came along with it. Yikes, what a disappointment.

We returned about a week later to give lunch a shot. The restaurant had quite a few more customers (though it was nowhere near busy); interestingly, almost all of the diners were sitting in the northern room and ordering off the regular menu. Nonetheless, we decided to give the lunch buffet ($7.25, which includes iced tea) a try.

The buffet included a decent salad bar ($4.95 separately) anchored by iceberg lettuce; the salad bar also included a pot of serviceable macaroni vegetable soup. We were able to sample seven other offerings: beef mini chimichangas, a fish stew, mashed potatoes, Salisbury steak, cheese enchiladas and the requisite rice and beans. Later in the meal, the fish stew was replaced by some beef tacos.

All in all, the food was good, if not spectacular. My favorite item, surprisingly, was the fish stew, which had a surprisingly strong kick; Garrett thought the fish was a bit overpowering, but I didn't mind. Garrett enjoyed the mini chimis; he said they tasted better than they looked, and I agree. Everything else, save the overly dry beef tacos, was enjoyable, if unremarkable. Whereas the service on our dinner visit had some glitches, the two women who helped us during lunch made sure we had plenty of water, iced tea and tortillas (though we did need to ask for chips and salsa).

Except for the mole poblano, which was truly heinous, everything about El Doradito was decent or better. On the flip side, nothing stood out as exceptional (except for maybe some of those mini chimis). For that reason, I won't be rushing back anytime soon; there is just too much great Mexican food around these parts.

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