Traveling east on 41st St., my first impression of La Mansion was one of guarded interest. This colorful part of the city has its own flair, its own personality that transforms not only the city but the person as well. Pulling into the parking lot, the overgrown grass greets customers; entering La Mansion, the situation improves. Kindly greeted at the door, my friend and I were invited to select our own table.
The dining room of La Mansion is pleasant enough: swirled dark-orange painted walls awaken the place. Six years in operation, the interior shows some signs of wear, but has been dutifully decorated with cultural pictures and Mexican artifacts.
Josefina Medina, manager of La Mansion, says that one of the best reasons customers come to dine here (besides the great food, of course) is the friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
"What sets us apart is that people think of the restaurant as their house, a place to relax and talk to other people, and spend time. They feel comfortable here," Medina said.
And it is the comfortable feeling we experienced as well. We began our meal with an appetizer not often offered at our local Mexican restaurants, Queso Fundido ($4.25). Spanish for "melted cheese" -- this particular version is served in a heated oval skillet which helps the cheese maintain its homeostatic temp as warm flour tortillas invade the space.
La Mansion's version is generously layered with pico de gallo, pickled jalapeños, then topped with spicy grilled chorizo. My friend and I agreed this was one of the best messy appetizers we've had: creamy melted jack cheese coexisting with all our favs -- meat, peppers, pico de gallo -- and scooped to the mouth on a softly heated flour tortilla. We found the ground sausage with an enjoyable and completely tolerable spicy kick. This large serving was left on the table for off-and-on nibbling throughout the meal.
A limited selection of domestic wines, full cocktail bar, domestic and imported beers, and margaritas are available. The margaritas are flavorful and stout: for once, I know there was tequila in a house margarita!
The menu, says Medina, offers customers many combinational options in Mexican cuisine: fish, chicken, beef, vegetarian, and special dinners. It is an expressive menu of almost too many options, still I at last narrowed my attention on the Carnitas dinner ($9.99) and my friend selected the Chile Relleno dinner ($7.99). Medina explained that in Mexico, the carnitas are a common dish for family gatherings and celebratory parties.
"The family will get a pig, cut it up and prepare carnitas as a big dish at these parties," she says. The carnitas dinner included large two-bite sized cubes of gently fried (crispy on the edges) pork, refried pinto beans topped with Jack cheese, rice, guacamole with shredded iceberg lettuce and sliced tomato.
I was quite pleased with the meal; the pork was extremely tender, and the crispness on the edges added a two-dimensional flavor and texture to the pork. The lightly seasoned rice and creamy-smooth beans were good -- both on the dry side of what I prefer. Warmed flour tortillas were an added bonus to this dinner.
Right at Home.
My friend's Chile Relleno dinner was two large rellenos, rice and beans. These stuffed chiles (roasted poblano peppers) were loaded with Jack cheese, covered with corn masa and fried. A spicy deep red chile sauce was baked on top of the peppers. "A solid relleno," my friend said of his meal. The soft corn breading was thick enough to enjoy but not too heavy to disguise the pepper. The freshness of the pepper came through; it was slightly hot, just enough to know you're eating a pepper.
Among some of the other menu items are the thirty Los Combos options ($7.49). During our conversation at La Mansion, which was shared with intermittent managerial duties, Medina pointed to them on the menu, saying the Los Combos are some of our most readily ordered items from the menu. More specifically, she identified numbers 5 and 7 to be the ones which fly off the menu: No. 5 includes two enchiladas, rice and beans; and No. 7 is one enchilada, one burrito, rice and beans.
Medina says the food at La Mansion does not reflect any particular regional cuisine of Mexico, but rather a sampling of many typical dishes and most items are prepared fresh each day, according to Medina -- guac, tamales, flautas, rice and beans. Of all dishes, though, she says the meat dishes are the favorites, especially the Carne Asada ($11.99) which is described as a rib-eye steak with guacamole salad, rice and beans.
Other variations of the rib-eye are available: Steak Mexicano ($11.99) which is a rib-eye with grilled onions, tomatoes and bell peppers, and served with guac, rice and beans; Steak La Mansion ($12.99), a rib-eye and shrimp, two cheese enchiladas and guac; and Steak Superior ($12.99), rib-eye with chorizo on top, guac, rice and beans. There's also a T-bone Steak ($13.99), a 12-ounce T-bone cooked with onions, mushrooms and bacon, and served on a hot skillet with cheese sauce, guac, rice and beans.
"What we try to do here is to serve people as fast as they can," she said.
While in some circumstances that might not be an attractive trait for a restaurant -- rushing the customer through their meal -- what Medina means is they "have so many customers, especially at lunch time, who have a limited amount of time to eat. We have people who come in and say, 'I have only 10 minutes to eat. What can you prepare for me in that short time?'" She reiterates that people are welcome to stay as long as they want, even if they are only sipping on water. "We want them to feel at home here, and just enjoy themselves with their friends."
A separate bar area was quite busy on the night I dined here. A small outdoor patio and an indoor semi-private dining room are additional areas for diners, and Medina does say the private dining room is often used by church groups, birthday parties and just large groups of friends.
La Mansion is certainly a restaurant that should be added to the list of solid Mexican restaurants in the city. What's lacking in the atmosphere more than makes up for it on the plate -- and palate.
Share this article: