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  • The Quesa-rdita from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Seafood nachos from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Guacamole from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Chipotle Burrito from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Flan from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Enchiladas Verdes from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Fresh salsa from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Fried ice cream from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • The Wet Burrito lunch from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Steak Fries from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

  • Tamales from Guacamole's in the Marketplace of Canterbury.

Sunday, March 11, 2018 1:00 am

Mexican spot a welcome north-side addition

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Guacamole's

***

Out of a possible five

$

The nostalgia hit me right away when I visited Guacamole's, a new Mexican restaurant in the Marketplace of Canterbury, and it came twofold.

For starters, the shopping center was a frequent destination for my wife and me when we moved to town as our favorite Chinese restaurant was located there. So I was glad to see another restaurant trying to make it there.

But it was the first appetizer I simply had to order that truly took me back. Seafood nachos were part of our regular order at our favorite Mexican spot when we were dating. Not many places offer them, so I had to try them. And they were delicious.

The crispy, warm tortilla chips were topped with big pieces of shrimp, a lot of imitation crab and had just enough white queso sauce, melted shredded white cheese, and diced onions and tomatoes. I added a little sour cream to each bite and was a very happy man.

Given the restaurant's name I expected the guacamole to be top-notch, too – and it was. It had a nice textural contrast with the smooth, silky avocado along with chunks of tomato and red onion and just enough diced jalapeņo to give it heat without making it obtrusive. The salsa was also great – chunky and vibrant with a real nice punch of cilantro.

If you don't like chips, you might want to try the steak fries. These are not big skin-on fried potatoes you get at a steakhouse; these were crispy, regular french fries topped with grilled steak and queso sauce. There was no way this couldn't work, but the steak did hold it back because it was a bit tough. It was just as tough on my carne asada taco, so I will steer clear of steak next time.

What I will not steer clear of, and will actually steer all of my dishes toward is Guacamole's chipotle sauce.

The chipotle burrito was, of course, coated with it. It had either ground beef, chicken or chorizo inside, along with beans, sour cream and cheese. The dark red sauce was smoky and just a little spicy with some sweet notes. It paired well with the chorizo I chose, which was on the mild side but still had plenty of zip to make you know what it was.

But that sauce was the star. It had the perfect roasted red pepper flavor and I will likely have it on every red-sauced item I have from now on – not that the regular red sauce was bad, it just wasn't as impressive as the chipotle.

Guacamole's verde sauce was also better than most of its peers. The green sauce, which coated my enchiladas verdes, was tangy and well-rounded while still being mild in terms of heat. It was a huge plate of food with four corn tortillas stuffed with chicken or steak – I wisely chose chicken this time – and topped with crumbled queso fresco and a drizzle of crema. Shredded lettuce was provided on the side and mixing it in was a must as it added texture and even more freshness that was already there thanks to the vibrant tomatillo sauce.

The most memorable dish I had didn't have any sauce. The Queso-rdita must have been a house specialty because of its odd name, which I have never seen anywhere else. It was sort of a cross between a sope and a quesadilla with two masa dough patties sandwiching grilled chicken, onions and bell peppers, all of it topped with oozing white queso sauce. It was marvelous as the moist, sweet masa and queso were the perfect accompaniments to the fajita-like filling with its still-tender, juicy chicken and peppers.

It is also worth noting how good Guacamole's refried beans were. They were rich and flavorful and I was surprised to find out they were vegetarian. Usually pork fat is involved when beans are this good.

Guacamole's offered tamales two ways – traditional in corn husk or Oaxaquenos-style wrapped in banana leaves – and sold them by the dozen. The chicken was the best as it had that tasty verde sauce and was much moister than the pork that was a bit dry and its red sauce was kind of bland.

The wet chimichanga I had at lunch was wet because it was coated in queso sauce, and its fried tortilla exterior held up well under that blanket of sauce. I loved the flavor, but I should warn you that the heavily seasoned ground beef inside was quite greasy.

I will also warn you about the desserts, because both failed. The fried ice cream was coated in chewy cereal that had no crunch, and the ice cream inside was frozen solid so it was hard eat. It needed longer in the fryer to get crisp and thaw a little.

The flan excited me when it hit the table because it came sliced like a pie, which was unusual. My server said it was homemade and recommended it highly, but the custard had broken badly and, though it had the right sweet, caramel flavor, I could not get past its cottage cheese-like texture.

The service was a little up and down – one dish was forgotten initially and brought late and it took a while to be waited on after being seated during one visit. But the folks there were very accommodating and helpful.

I asked for horchata to drink and was told they were out of it, but if I didn't mind waiting a few minutes, they would make it up fresh for me. They did and it was some of the best horchata I have had recently. And they offered free refills like soda, which was a huge bonus.

The interior was also surprisingly nice with an attractive lime green and orange paint scheme and neat black ceilings. It was more function over form, but still above par.

Restaurant: Guacamole's

Address: 5709 St. Joe Road

Phone: 492-9222

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Cuisine: Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Seafood nachos ($10.15), guacamole ($5.19), steak fries ($6), chipotle burrito ($9.49), enchiladas verdes ($9.50), Queso-rdita ($4.25), tamales ($2.50 each or $20 per dozen; Oaxaquenos-style $3 each or $24 per dozen), chimichanga ($7.50), desserts ($4), horchata ($2.29)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.