Mixed Meals

After two divergent visits to Micha's del Norte, we don't know what to think

One of the greatest dining innovations of the previous century was "get and go" food: not fast food, per se, but a meal where the only work involved is a phone call and a drive to pick up the food (and the closer to home, the better).

This is where Micha's del Norte came in one recent Saturday night. Neither of us felt like cooking; this traditional Mexican restaurant is located less than five minutes from the house, so Micha's was the eatery of choice.

The sweet voice on the other end of the phone was all too happy to take my order: a machaca burro, enchilada-style for John ($6.75, plus $1.75 for the toppings) and a No. 10 Combo ($7.95) for me, which consisted of a chili relleno, refried beans and Mexican rice. John ordered a side of beans ($1.50), and we both ordered dessert--flan ($3.50) and cherry cheesecake ($4.50). As an afterthought, I ordered chips and salsa ($2.50).

I arrived at the restaurant and gave the young woman our name (John's name, that is; this is an incognito review, after all), and she told me to make myself comfortable while she got the order.

I was able to take in the vibe. Micha's is the epitome of a family restaurant. Not only were many of the tables filled with families, but there were at least three generations working various jobs. A mariachi band was warming up in the lobby, and several of the staff members were busy preparing for what looked like a huge party in the private dining room. I was glad we beat the rush.

The décor is pretty low key. There is a stage in the middle of the dining room, several large picture windows looking out onto Prince Road, and a few Mexican knickknacks on shelves and the walls. Nothing fancy.

The food was brought out, and I headed for home.

In no time, we were enjoying our dinners. Granted, we were eating out of Styrofoam, but all the food provided excellent examples of what we like in our Mexican food.

John's burro was gigante, and the shredded meat was tender and seasoned perfectly. The gooey cheese and lightly spiced enchilada sauce were the perfect foil to the seasoned meat. This was such a big serving that almost half was leftover and enjoyed the next day as a quick lunch.

My relleno also made for a generous portion. The chile was filled with plenty of Monterey jack, covered with a light, eggy batter, then topped with yellow cheese. That may sound like every other relleno in town, but it takes a light hand to make sure that not one flavor or texture dominates the dish. Micha's has it down pat.

My rice was more than acceptable, but we both truly enjoyed the refries. There was definitely a homemade flavor to the creamy and smooth beans. The portion was small, but with such large entrées, you don't need big sides.

The flan was practically perfect in every way. There was a hint of cinnamon in the silky custard, which tempered the sweetness of the burnt sugar glaze. John's cheesecake, too, was delicious, partially due to the thick graham-cracker crust. The cherries added, perhaps, a tad too much sweetness, but the cheesecake itself worked.

As great as all the food was that night, our in-house visit, sadly, didn't come close to being even good.

Right away, the salsa had too much of a bite, and the chips seemed a bit stale (there is no cost at the restaurant).

We ordered a cheese crisp with chile strips ($7) and two Bohemia beers ($4) for starters. The moment the cheese crisp was set on the table, we knew something was wrong. It was buried in bright yellow cheese, and the tortilla was thick and very greasy. Also, the chile strips were way too large for easy eating. We left more than half on the tray--not our usual modus operandi.

Our entrées were no better. John ordered the No. 12A, two beef pattie tacos with rice and beans ($6.95). I had the No. 7E, two carne seca enchiladas with, of course, rice and beans ($8.50).

John's tacos suffered from the same greasiness that plagued the cheese crisp (a sure sign that the oil they were cooked in was not hot enough), and the beef patties were tasteless. While the carne seca in my enchiladas held that wonderful texture that makes this dish so great, the tortillas were dried out to the point that the edges were crunchy. That all might've been saved by the enchilada sauce, but this wasn't the case. The tortillas were barely covered, and the sauce also lacked that wonderful texture and taste that had topped John's burro during our first meal. I also would swear that the beans were not the same beans we had for takeout. These were thick, dry and laden with too much cheese. They lacked the "authenticity" of that first batch.

Something else was also missing--that family feeling. Service was pretty uninspired, and there wasn't a kid in sight. Plus, one of the servers was told to clean the windows. The only cleaning that should be done during dinner service is wiping off tables and mopping up an occasional spill.

We were so disappointed in the meal that we opted out of dessert.

Such inconsistency is a mystery to me. Had I been able to visit a third or fourth or sixth time over a period of months, the results perhaps would've uncovered the true nature of Micha's del Norte. I guess I'll have to do that on my own.

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