It doesn’t get any fresher than thisEat This! Thursday, July 7th, 2016
A heavy bowl-sized molcajete made of black volcanic stone is placed on the table. Diced tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, garlic and cilantro are heaped inside. A whole peeled and pitted avocado is added to the mix with a squeeze of grilled lime juice then expertly blended. And that’s how guacamole ($7.99) is made at Ortega’s Mexican Bistro.
“It doesn’t get any fresher than this,” I said.
“Pierce”, sporting his new fashionable eyeglasses (could he be more adorable), agreed.
Ortega’s opened their doors in 2005, but this was my first visit. The space features lots of wood and exposed brick, tasteful bursts of color, tile accents and a functional fireplace. The ambience is warm and inviting; a welcome change from the garish tacky tourist traps near Old Town. Salsa music poured from the PA and patrons danced in the aisles. We sat at the u-shaped bar beneath a low ceiling of rough-hewn planks. The leather bound menus were heavy and luxurious in our hands. Intimate. Convivial.
You won’t find them on the menu, but we sipped Cucumber Mojitos ($9) custom blended by Cesar, our amicable bartender/server. The blend of rum, simple syrup, muddled lime, cucumber and mint is the perfect tropical beverage on a sultry summer night. If I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the waves breaking on the beach and feel the sand beneath my toes.
In addition to guacamole, Pierce and I shared an order of Baja Shrimp Ceviche ($10.99) as an appetizer. Bites of tender pink crustacean are marinated in lime juice then tossed with tomatoes, onions and cilantro. I was surprised by a light sheen of tomato paste and the tang of horseradish; sort of like a ceviche shrimp cocktail. Hot from the fryer tortilla chips dusted with Tajin completed the presentation.
Pierce and I finished our mojitos then ordered Don Julio Classic Margaritas ($14) as an accompaniment for our entrées. The timeless concoction of Don Julio Blanco tequila, fresh-squeezed lime and orange juice with Grand Marnier floated over the top, is served on the rocks in a bucket without salt per request. A little sweet, a little tart and a whole lot of lip-smacking good.
Ortega’s menu is loaded with tempting seafood selections; fish tacos, crab enchiladas, lobster and steak, lobster and shrimp. Pierce ordered the Whole Lobster Special ($39.99) and I selected the Chicken Mole Enchiladas ($15.99). The 12 ounce lobster tail is prepared the traditional Puerto Nuevo way – steamed then flash grilled for a quick sear and a light smokiness. Sweet and meaty.
The enchiladas are filled with tender shredded chicken and smothered with a rich savory mole sauce. There is something about the divinely inspired combination of roasted peppers, chocolate and peanut butter that is seductive and addicting. Chopped tomatoes, cilantro and onions with crumbles of hard cotija cheese topped the twin enchiladas. Both entrées were accompanied by rice, refried beans and a handmade tortilla. The frijoles are made without lard and have a light fluffy texture, almost like a purée. Healthy and heavenly.
Ortega’s Mexican Bistro, located in the heart of Hillcrest, is open seven days a week and offers a late-night happy hour from 10-midnight. They cook up a delicious weekend brunch, too. Eat this, hungry readers. You’ll be glad you did.
Ortega’s Mexican Bistro
141 University Ave.
Open daily till midnight
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