"This really feels like Mexico," said my friend the inveterate traveler, scanning the outdoor patio at Hondo's Margarita Bar & Grill.
He had a point. The seductively relaxing patio boasts a corrugated tin roof, endless palm fronds and funky little chairs splotched with yellow, blue and red paint. The tables are covered with red oilcloths, just as at beachfront restaurants on the Mexican Riviera.
The patio is also, in my opinion, a better place to eat than Hondo's faux-cantina indoor dining room, cluttered with pop artifacts. Besides, we're in Glendale and it is glorious summer. You can enjoy gentle breezes on the patio, because the roof only covers enough to block direct sunlight.
Actually, the new Hondo's re-creates the old Hondo's, which was just a few doors north until it was destroyed by fire. As for this location, you may remember when it was a pizza-and-pasta haunt called Noodles. After that, owner Jeff Williams tried Downtown Bar & Grill.
But now that it's Hondo's, the kitchen turns out good Mexican dishes such as top-notch carnitas and huge, tasty burritos. And it still has the same wood oven that produced some of Glendale's best pizzas when this was Noodles.
Hondo's thin-crusted pizzas come with toppings suggesting Asia and the Southwest, and all are quite good. New-Mex pizza is topped with pieces of mesquite-grilled chicken, black beans, sweet corn, cilantro, queso blanco and a delicious chipotle sauce. The smoky barbecue chicken pizza is especially good because of a subtly sweet barbecue sauce, thinly sliced red onions and tangy smoked Gouda cheese.
Sometimes Hondo's goes astray in its eclecticism. The chicken satay would be better if the skewers of mesquite-grilled chicken came with a spicy Southeast Asian peanut sauce, rather than a bland creamy curry sauce and oddball papaya salsa. There's a chicken curry on the Tex-Mex menu, but it's totally lacking in the characteristic bite of an Indian curry.
Noodles prided itself on its pastas, and Hondo's is keeping up the tradition by serving a few good ones. The chipotle shrimp linguine is surprisingly well conceived: jumbo shrimp, roasted corn and al dente noodles in a perfectly balanced chipotle pepper-cream sauce. Tomato cilantro spaghettini takes good pasta alla checca and gooses up the garlic and tomatoes with cilantro and cotija cheese.
Some of the wholly Mexican dishes are nicely tweaked, too. The potato rojas tacos are terrific, and unusual. These are crisp corn tortillas piled with chunks of roasted red potatoes, chopped onions and tangy New-Mex slaw, which tastes faintly Asian because the cabbage is mixed with sesame seeds.
Only a few dishes miss the mark. The grilled steak Tampico was a generous portion of flank steak but proved almost too tough to chew. My mesquite-grilled swordfish was cooked to a frazzle. The rotisserie chicken is fine, but I never got the promised charro beans and corn pudding.
The desserts, meanwhile, tend to be incredibly sweet, like the warm bread pudding that makes your teeth hurt. After sharing a pitcher of dizzyingly refreshing Trash Can margaritas made with Sauza Gold, Cointreau and fresh lime juice, I was in no mood to complain. All I wanted was to feel the summer breeze, enjoy the patio and figure out who was in the best shape to drive us home.
Hondo's Margarita Bar & Grill, 215 N. Central Ave., Glendale. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday, 4:30-11 p.m. Saturday, 4:30-10 p.m. Sunday. Full bar. Street parking. All major cards. Dinner for two (food only) $18-$35. Suggested dishes: potato rojas tacos, $6.95; New-Mex pizza, $7.95; chipotle shrimp linguine, $10.95; plato de carnitas, $8.95. Call (818) 243-1701.