Cheap Eats: Rique's Regional Mexican Food

CookingLifestyle and Leisure

First impressions
Rique's two dining rooms have a handful of tables and bentwood chairs, a cement floor painted a dark shade of red and good quality Mexican art (for sale) on the walls. It's a clean place with personality.

On the plate
Chef/owner Enrique Cortes is from Sonora, a region in northern Mexico where red meat and chilies are staples, but he finds space on a menu of more than 40 items to include dishes from other regions. Breakfast features more than half-a-dozen egg dishes. Some of the selections in the category "Mexico's favorites"--tacos, tamales, flautas, tostados among them--are American favorites too. Less familiar Mexican dishes include chayote (squash) with corn and poblano peppers, tinga (shredded chicken stewed in chili-chipotle tomato sauce) and marinated and grilled chicken breast in tomatillo and pumpkin seed sauce. Portions are plentiful but not enormous; seasoning is lively but controlled.

At your service
The single server on duty the midweek night of our visit was pleasant and helpful. The chef, who visited the dining room several times during our meal, was charming and informative as well.

Second helpings
The "tricks" to the consistently satisfying level of the food are the quality of the mostly fresh ingredients and a well-honed sense of timing that helps the chef avoid overcooking. Freshly cooked chips with red sauce get the meal off to a lively start. Queso con chorizo, an agreeable appetizer of Mexican sausage, boasts lots of onion, tomatoes and green peppers. The cooked chorizo was not fatty, nor had oil collected in the bottom of the dish. A tamale--soft and sweet with tender chicken and chipotle sauce--was as good as they get. Caldo Tlalpeno, a superior, smoky chicken soup, becomes even more lively with the addition of lime juice. Rich, almond-flavored, chocolate-colored mole with grilled chicken offers an array of relatively mild flavors. Moist and tender pork slow-cooked with green tomatillos is skillfully braised. For a vegetable main course consider rajas con hongos y queso: poblano pepper strips and mushrooms cooked with onions, cream cheese and epazote. Finally, beans are accorded great respect here.

Take a pass
An over-filled fish taco was difficult to eat. The generally admired tres leches dessert, from a local bakery, seemed uninspired.

Thirst quenchers
American and Latin soft drinks, several coffee variations and a trio of milk shakes are available. BYOB is welcome.

Appetizers, $3.15-$5.25; salads, $3.75-$5.75; soups, $2.99-$3.15; main dishes, $6.95-$12.95; desserts, $2.15-$3.15; breakfast, $2.25-$6.75.

William Rice is the Tribune food and wine columnist.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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