An hour wait for a table? On a Wednesday night? That's what we discovered the first time we visited Don Pablos, located at Bowie Crossing (at the intersection of Route 50 and Route 197). The place was packed with customers patiently waiting at the door or the bar for tables to open up.
But even the wait can be entertaining. As we watched tortilla chips being made, the adults ordered margaritas (I recommend the Real Margarita at $5.95) and kids were content with sodas or homemade lemonade ($1.39). Then came the salsa, advertised on the menu as a fat-free, cholesterol-free, guilt-free food for calorie watchers (25 calories for 3 ounces). One problem: the same cannot be said about those tortilla chips! For those who share my love of spicy food, be sure to ask for the Salsa Chili Macho-- a spicy version with cilantro and hunks of jalapenos.
When we got to our table, we started with an appetizer of Prairie Fire Bean Dip ($3.59), a wonderful mixture of refritos (beans cooked until tender and flavored with garlic, cumin, salt, pepper and margarine), grated cheese, onions, jalapenos and cilantro. The waitress will show you how to flap it, slap it, grip it and dip it and the kids will love it. We tried the chicken and beef quesadillas ($7.89), and the grilled beef was the high point of the meal for me.
The Classic Tortilla Soup ($3.29 for a bottomless bowl, $1.99 for a cup) had hunks of chicken breast and vegetables mixed with tortilla strips. Between the waiting-in-line chips and then the appetizers, one bowl was enough for the 9-year-old in our party.
We overloaded with two combination dinners, huge plates including refritos and Mexican rice (rice, tomatoes, chilies and spices). In retrospect, one combination dinner and one appetizer would have been plenty for two adults. The El Presidente ($8.49) is a chicken enchilada with sour cream sauce, a beef enchilada with chili sauce, and a cheese chile relleno with ranchero sauce. The chicken enchilada and cheese chile relleno were good, but the beef enchilada was too salty--a consistent problem with all the ground beef dishes we tried. The El Matador ($8.99) is two chicken flautas (they look like long skinny egg rolls), a cheese enchilada with red sauce, a crispy beef taco and a chicken enchilada with sour cream sauce. Again, we enjoyed everything but the beef taco. The relleno dinner ($7.69) is two green chilies battered and stuffed with your choice of cheese, chicken or beef. I opted for one chicken and one beef, but much preferred the cheese relleno on the El Presidente combo.
If you want to take a lighter tour of the menu, I suggest the grilled chicken Caesar salad ($7.19) topped with mesquite-grilled fajitas chicken and honey-roasted pecans--an unusual addition to the traditional Caesar salad. Also very good was the soft taco dinner ($6.69)--two soft tortillas stuffed with chicken or beef (we opted for the chicken) and served with refritos and Mexican rice.
We tried the featured entree, Fajitas Camarones ($12.99)--large shrimp wrapped in smoked bacon with Mexican barbecue sauce. This was probably the biggest disappointment of the evening. Even my boyfriend--who eats just about anything--did not finish the shrimp.
For dessert we tried the sopapilla ($2.29), a fried puff pastry with honey-butter sauce. They were good, but after our huge meals, it was hard for six of us to finish one serving.
Don Pablos, 15209 Major Lansdale Blvd., Bowie, Md. 20716; call 301-809-6720. Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-11:00 p.m. Entrees: $6.99-$12.99; lunch specials: $4.49-$7.19.
CAPTION: Margaritas and beef quesadillas are among the temptations at Don Pablos restaurant in Bowie.