El Rio Verde is harder to find than a rare rib eye at a vegetarian convention, but it's worth the effort.
Do this: Head north on North Utica Avenue till you cross over Interstate 244. Take your first left on East Admiral Place, drive a couple hundred feet west to the Mid-Town Tulsa Funeral Home. Turn right onto North Trenton Avenue, and start looking on your left for a cinderblock building.
A colorful graffiti-style mural adorns the outside walls, and it sits across the street from Tommy's Banana House, which isn't a hip new bar, it's a produce house that serves the local area.
The bumpy gravel parking lot will be filled with every vehicle imaginable, from old beater pickups and flatbeds, to BMWs and Mercedes and even police cars and even church busses. The restaurant is always filled with clientele who knows where to go for some of the best Mexican food in Tulsa.
The first time I went, I wasn't sure I was in the right place. After finding it, I still wasn't sure if I was in the right place. Set in the same neighborhood that holds all of Tulsa's local produce houses, this small building is a diamond in the rough.
No matter when you decide to dine, there are always hot chips on the table within a minute, along with both hot and mild salsas. These are the real deal chips too, fried continually all day long, not poured out of a bag.
A lot of folks' yardstick for measuring the authenticity of an ethnic restaurant is how many "authentic" diners are seated alongside them. Based on these criteria, el Rio Verde is about as authentic as they come.
The wait staff are efficient, quiet and methodical. The décor is early neighborhood diner. That is to say it's a combination of booths and tables covered with brightly flowered plastic tablecloths, a mix of wooden chairs and a counter along one wall.
From the great, fresh ingredients to the waitresses, and even down to the Mexican beers, sweet rice milk, homemade Mexican candy and south of the border soft drinks like Jarritos, el Rio Verde is the best. It's continuously filled with both Hispanic and Anglo customers, including lots of families, working people and business folks. When you go you will probably have about a 50/50 chance of seeing someone in there you know.
Less known than the fabulous lunch and dinner offerings are el Rio Verde's great breakfast plates. The food is tremendously filling and delicious and arrives with generous portions. The restaurant serves everything from breakfast burritos and steak and eggs, to the classic huevos rancheros.
Lunch and dinner are no different, with a large menu and a huge variety of choices.
Since my wife is not particularly fond of liver being cooked in our home, I find myself ordering it a lot when I see it on a menu, and this time was no exception. El Rio Verde's version is definitely one of the most unique presentations for liver I have seen. Sliced in strips and quick fried, it is served essentially fajita style, with peppers and onions, all the lettuce, tomato and sour cream garnishes, and wonderful warm tortillas.
Another favorite is the pescado. A whole tilapia is crisscross scoured with a sharp knife for faster cooking, dusted in flour and crisp deep-fried. The dish is served with lettuce, tomato, sour cream, pico de gallo and warm tortillas. I love picking the hot chunks of fried fish off the bones as I go, and building my fish tacos the authentic way. It's served with plenty of lime wedges for that perfect touch of acid. The dish comes with homemade refried beans and flavorful rice, as does almost everything on the menu.
If you're a really big eater, try el Rio Verde's signature Wet Burrito. Filled with your choice of fresh vegetables, chicken, beef, pork or shellfish, plus rice and beans, this huge tortilla is then topped with your choice of either red or green sauce, cheeses, sour cream and guacamole, this is a meal for the heartiest of appetites. Same goes for the torta, a chewey, earth-grainy sort of roll the size of a Mini Cooper hubcap, filled with, well -- pretty much anything you want. One of my favorites is loaded with carnita and pastor, avocado and sour cream, shredded cheese and peppers and onions, and then served wet with an ancho chili sauce. Too good!
If you love shellfish, try the ceviche, a Peruvian dish of scallops and shrimp with white fish, peppers, lime juice, garlic and oil that's allowed to marinate until the fish cooks in the citric acid of the lime juice.
Everything on the menu is under $9, and most things are in the $4-$6 range. If my wife and I spend more than $15 I start adding up the check to see if they made a math error.
Check it out, you won't regret it.
El Rio Verde
38 N. Trenton Ave.
Hours: 8:30am to 9:30pm every day
Service: **and a half
Food: *** and a half
Wow!! This place is off the charts*****
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