Hours: Monday through Thursday 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Prices: Dinner for two with appetizers, drinks and desserts costs $30 to $40 including tax and tip. Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
Here they go again--another Mexican restaurant with an encyclopedic menu full of cutesy descriptions and drawings of sombrero-topped guitar players, a restaurant where the dishes are heavy on sour cream and "ranchero" sauce and melted cheese. In short, one more Mexican restaurant with mediocre, mediocre food.
Miguel's looks pleasant enough, if a little contrived (the sign says it's not just a restaurant but a "restaurant and meeting place"). The dining rooms have that folksy California-style decor that's starting to look as though it's churned out of a mold: lots of brass railings, twirling fans, wooden beams and smoked glass.
But the food: Why can't they serve just a dozen dishes, instead of more than six dozen, and concentrate on preparing them well?
A few of the dishes are innocuous, such as nachos ala Miguel; the melted cheese may be tepid, the chips may be a bit soggy, and there isn't a speck of chorizo, as the menu promises, but it's a decent enough way to start the meal. Steak picado is nice -- with thin slices of fair beef, quickly grilled and rosy, topped with grilled onions and peppers.
But most of the dishes we've tried have been blah. The chicken and beef fillings in the myriad enchiladas and burritos taste stringy and dry, occasionally with an off-taste that reminds us of too-long-frozen meat. Chicken dishes such as pechuga de quail, boneless, herbed breasts, may be overcooked. The tamales are simply awful, with the consistency of lead weights. We haven't fared much better with specials such as tacos al carbon.
The menu has a page devoted to seafood dishes, but a recent overcooked red snapper Mexicana, which also didn't taste too fresh, hasn't encouraged us to try more of them. Even the drinks are disappointing -- big brazen glasses topped with big chunks of fruit, but filled with dacquiris and margaritas that taste straight from a mix.
The nice surprise about Miguel's, after all this, is that there are some fine flourishes here and there. Pork dishes, which even fine restaurants can mistreat, have been quite good -- especially chili verde, tender chunks in a lively sauce with shards of peppers, onions and olives; and carnitas -- pork that's been simmered and then fried until it has a crisp shell, served on lettuce and tomatoes with a mild green chili sauce on the side.
The thick and chunky guacamole is among the best we've had. And notice this: Miguel's serves baskets of warm, authentic, home-made flour tortillas, which taste worlds apart from the tortillas you get in most restaurants.
End your meal on a high note with fried ice cream ball, with a nice crisp coating and bits of orange peel; and sopapillas, light, football-shaped puffs of dough dusted with lots of cinnamon.
Touches likes these suggest Miguel's could be a lot better. Stick with them -- don't venture far into the rest of the menu -- and you can have a pleasant meal.