The old Applebee’s location on Sherwood Forest has headed south of the border with its recent transformation into El Paso Mexican Grill. The new location is the eighth of these family-owned restaurants in Louisiana, with other El Pasos in Gonzales, Lafayette, Luling, Thibodaux, Crowley, Raceland and Houma.
The exterior and interior of the building look about the same, save some red, black and terra cotta paint on the dining areas’ walls, a few arched doorways and some mosaic tile. A rectangular bar still dominates the center of the large room, and TVs still hang in the corners. The eatery seemed to have a steady stream of diners on Memorial Day evening.
Having enjoyed guacamole made tableside at the last Mexican restaurant I reviewed, we ordered this appetizer option ($8.99) again. Our server, Brenda, scooped out and blended the avocado with bits of tomato, onions, jalapenos, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon. Although all the components tasted quite fresh, we found this version a bit too hot, and will cut back on the cilantro and jalapenos the next time around. The bowl of dip was plenty enough to feed the four of us, and Brenda brought additional chips and complementary salsa (quite good) when those ran low.
Looking for something different and lighter, I tried the vegetarian plate ($8.25). Piping hot, the cheese enchilada was well-filled and pleasing, as was the chalupa, a flat corn tortilla, piled with refried beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese. The only drawback to the chalupa was in attempting to pick it up and eat it like a taco, and having it break in the middle. But worth the mess nonetheless. The beans and rice were satisfactory, but nothing special. For vegetarians, El Paso notes on its menu that the black bean dip and refried beans are cooked with manteca (lard), and that vegetables can be substituted for beans by request.
The camarones a la brochetas ($14.99) were a real hit. A half-dozen plump, jumbo shrimp were stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and grilled to tenderness. The melding of shrimp and bacon flavors was delightful in this very filling dish that comes with a guacamole salad and a small tortilla soup, both average.
We also liked the enchiladas alcarbon ($13.99). The three cheese enchiladas were topped with carne asada (thin, marinated strips of steak) grilled to tenderness and well-seasoned. Guacamole, sour cream, rice and beans were served on the side.
The 10-ounce ribeye steak ($14.99) was cooked to medium as ordered, and although it didn’t have any special seasonings or toppings, was a flavorful, juicy, tender steak with nice marbling. The accompanying mixed vegetables were a well-seasoned mix of steamed carrots, broccoli and squash. The dish also came with salad, rice and beans.
We took home an order of sopapillas ($4.79) and flan ($5.59) and enjoyed both.