I know a loyal group of folks are going to get me for this, but on a recent visit to a local landmark Mexican restaurant, I got an accurate and definite definition of what I will forever call Gringo-Mex cuisine.
Now if that's what you like that's fine, but there should be no pretense about what you are getting when you enter Ricardo's Mexican Restaurant in the Highland Plaza Shopping Center.
Almost as soon as I sat down, a large basket of chips and a dish of salsa were placed in front of me. Unfortunately, the chips tasted as if they were out of a bag, and the salsa was -- at best -- made in house with canned tomatoes, and at worst not made in house ... with canned tomatoes.
My first choice was supreme nachos (half order $7.50). A boat-shaped plate was filled with the house's special chili con queso -- traditionally a sauce of several cheeses and cream, spices and a variety of mild chili peppers. If this was anything more than canned cheese, with maybe a little milk mixed in, I would be really surprised.
It was heavy and bland, and it only served to make the skimpy ration of chips soggy and limp. The longer it sat, the more congealed it became. There was a small amount of shredded melted cheddar next, and then a thin layer of refried beans and some taco style ground beef that came next with no spice or even mild seasoning that I could ascertain. It was all hidden under a huge mound of shredded lettuce, some diced tomatoes, a few jalapenos and about 16 pounds of sliced black olives, all of which actually made up the majority of the dish. (Well, maybe not 16, but way too many!)
Finally, it was topped with sour cream and guacamole. The guacamole was actually quite good, and I was pleased I had ordered the guacamole salad ($3.50 for a small order; $4.99 for the large) as my next dish. That is until the plate was put in front of me, and I noticed a dime sized chunk missing out of the rim of the plate. Not only unsightly, it can harbor bacteria and is a risky way to save a few bucks.
I ordered what my server assured me is the most popular item on the menu, chile rellenos ($7.25 for two or $9.25 for three). They were dipped in a batter of some sort and were probably crispy originally but were literally swimming around in a dish full of the same cheese sauce I had in the bottom of my nacho plate.
There was so much sauce in the plate that the rellenos literally floated. There is no cuisine in the world I can think of where that much sauce should accompany the entrée. It was over the top in every way. No pun intended.
I ordered the flan for dessert ($2.25). A standard on Mexican menus in this country, and popular below the border as well, it's origins are actually French. It is essentially custard with an added layer of caramelized sugar. I could get pretty technical here, but suffice it to say that more often than not, we see it with melted caramel instead.
The key to a successful custard is cooking the mixture at a low and slow enough temperature that the egg proteins remain creamy and silky smooth.
A well prepared custard is as much a delight for its feel on the tongue as it is a treat for the taste buds.
Unfortunately, this particular offering, while better than some around town, was still a bit coarse in texture to be considered a successful dish, even though the flavor wasn't bad.
As you arrive at the front door, a sign outside lets you know that Ricardo's has been a favorite of Tulsans since 1975. And as you enter, you feel like nothing has been touched since 1975 either. Most likely, their customer base is made up largely of the same folks that started coming back in that decade.
The dark décor has an old and worn -- or more accurately worn out -- feeling. The booths and wood trim on the walls and doors are battered and worn and not in that charming patina sort of way either. Heavy old Mediterranean style tables and chairs make the entire place feel seriously outdated.
Cloth and pillow topped furniture were more often threadbare than not -- the same with the carpet.
It's sort of a hodge-podge of added-on dining rooms shotgun style, with one room leading to another on several levels, in a long narrow space.
I must say I was very pleasantly greeted, and no matter who I came in contact with during my recent visit, everyone was cordial, polite and cheerful. It was a nice feeling in spite of the dingy atmosphere.
My server was a very attentive, pleasant young lady and did a very good job of taking care of my needs. A linen napkin held my silverware, but a plastic cup held my water. A mixed message to be sure.
I'm sorry I don't have better things to say about this Tulsa landmark, but someone needs to pay some serious attention to a face lift. In my opinion, both the food and the facility could use some help, and I hope that they are able to do it.
Ricardo's Mexican Restaurant
5629 E. 41st St.
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