Caliente Mexican Restaurant
Good food and free fun offered at this local eatery.
Situated on the corner of Ellinwood Street and Pearson Street, Caliente Mexican Restaurant’s bright “open” sign is inviting on this cold, January night. Though it looks rather small from the outside, with three separate dining areas and a bar, it is surprisingly spacious.
Following the hostess to a booth, a waitress says "hello" as we cross paths. I feel immediately welcomed as I sit down and open my menu.
My husband and I are one of just three tables tonight. I face two walls covered by a black and white mural of icons such as painter Frida Kahlo. Other walls are painted bold colors such as burnt orange, and green. Soft Mexican music is playing. Overall, it is quiet inside. Christmas lights are strung above the bar behind me. It contains a few booths, yet is noticeably separated from the dining area by walls. With salsa lessons on Thursday nights, live guitar music on Friday nights and karaoke on Saturday nights, Caliente is certainly fit to house a vibrant crowd.
The waitress stops by our table with water and complimentary chips and salsa. The salsa has a kick, but isn’t too spicy for sensitive taste buds such as mine. She lets us know about the special that day—half-priced original margaritas. With a sign on the front window boasting “famous margaritas,” I found it odd that they didn’t have a list of alcoholic drinks on their menu or at the table. Regardless, the waitress was knowledgeable and patiently answered our questions.
I opted for a small strawberry margarita, frozen—no salt. A minute later she returns with what looks like a large or medium. I remind her I wanted a small and she confirms that, yes, this is a small. Though it cost the full $8.95 because I didn’t choose the original, it was worth the money with a perfect blend of strawberry and tequila.
We chose tamales for an appetizer. At $7.95, it was the least expensive option, with the most expensive going up to $11.95. We wanted chicken, but got stuck with pork because they ran out of chicken tamales since they were made that morning.
The tamales were served before we even got a chance to order our entrées. Three tamales were accompanied with sour cream and our sauce of choice—a non-spicy tomato. There was nothing unique about them--they reminded me of the kind my friend’s mother often makes at home-- but they were warm and tasty nonetheless.
After getting a (free) refill of our chips and salsa, we ordered a combination platter. For $13.95, we chose three items off the menu—a chicken taco, an enchilada and a steak and cheese quesadilla. Not a minute after we finished our appetizer, our entrée was ready. I couldn’t help wondering how much of their food is made fresh to order, though tonight there is only a small crowd.
The quesadilla was an instant winner with thick and gooey cheese. The taco cheese was different--not melted, but crumbled, and there was a single slice of tomato instead of the usual diced portion. It was unusual, which made it seem a bit upscale. The platter also came with rice and refried beans. A sprinkle of carrots, green beans and corn gave the rice a healthy feel and taste. A bit of cheese was also melted atop the refried beans. The little extras were a nice touch.
Between the chips and salsa, tamales and combo entrée, we needed a box for our leftover taco, rice and beans. Though full, we chose to try the Flan Con Rompope, $4.95. Listed as Mexico’s classic dessert, it came with Mexican eggnog and a small side of what our waitress called “cajeta.” This buttery liquid tasted a lot like vanilla, and was a great addition to our flan.
Overall, the food tasted good and the portions were generous. In hindsight, I could have just added a fourth choice, a tamale, to my combination platter for an extra dollar instead of the appetizer.
With the bill totaling $50.63 and a $10.00 tip, Caliente is a bit pricey for a quick bite but a great place to enjoy a nice dinner, or a night out on weekends, with friends and family.