Highlight: Chile Rellenos
Lowlight: Mushy, Runny, Bland
Veggie Note: There's a large section on the menu dedicated to vegetarian dishes. Lot's of choices, but there's a lot of repeating elements just in different combinations. Still, cool that they have a vegetarian menu.
We have driven past El Rodeo (several of them) multiple times, and we laugh at the name every time. We finally decided to give it a try, despite the fact that it seemed just a bit too phony to be authentic.
El Rodeo is a local Mexican Restaurant chain (claims to be the first authentic Mexican restaurant in the Harrisburg area). The restaurants are very "themed" looking and boast a rotating schedule of live Mariachi music (not the night we ate there). The menu is large and looks a lot like the menu of many other "authentic" Mexican restaurants that we have been to in Pennsylvania. Lists of combination dinners, a section of specialties, some a la carte stuff and of course beans and rice served with most dishes. The whole place was brightly colored and the staff were all mostly Spanish speaking with moderate English speaking skills.
We had the following:
- Chips & Salsa - it came as no surprise to us that we were served this standard Mexican restaurant starter. Chips and salsa were both fresh. Watch out, the side order menu says a second basket will cost you $1.25, no free refills here!
- Vegetarian #5 One authentic cheese chile relleno, cheese enchilada, rice and beans - The relleno was good, the sauce was interesting, almost reminiscent of some kind of Indian curry. It must have been a spice they used, but I couldn't pick it out. The enchilada didn't blow me away, I almost forgot what it was that I was eating. Melted cheese in a tortilla, the only thing that really makes that an enchilada would be good enchilada sauce, and the sauce here was just sauce. No spicy, not particularly flavorful, ho hum. Beans and rice were beans and rice. The beans here were very runny. Same as they were in the Mexican joint we used to haunt in our last home town, so maybe that is "authentic," at least for Pennsylvania standards.
- Vegetarian #9 Plato de Chile Auténtico - basically two chile rellenos. My partner really enjoyed these, saying they were better than most. So that's good I guess. They were tender, and fried very nice. Not at all spicy though.
- Combination #4 Two hard beef tacos, one beef enchilada and one chile con queso - our favorite non-vegetarian friend (who is becoming more and more vegetarian everyday - hooray!) ordered this, with cheese over the enchilada instead of enchilada sauce. There was kind of a rather confusing exchange with the waitress, who was having a hard time understanding the special request, and a lot of specific questions in general. It came with out enchilada sauce, but the cheese sauce was poured all over the plate (except for on top of the enchilada - I don't know how they managed to miss it, the whole plate was flooded.) The crunchy tortilla under the chile con queso was really soggy as a result. The server who brought our food didn't mind bringing out a crunchy replacement, but it was kind of stale (maybe that's why they flooded the first one?) Did I mention our dear friend is from Texas? "Authentic" obviously translates a little different down there. There were no blue ribbons being given on the meat-eatin side of the table.
Just a few other notes:
In general we had a little trouble communicating with our server when it came to specific questions about dishes and special requests. Ordering straight off the menu, however, was no problem.
They do have a full bar here, we ordered margaritas on the rocks and they were pretty good.
I checked out using a credit card, at the cashier's station near the exit. I was asked about how much I wanted to tip verbally, not given a chance to write it on the receipt myself. I don't like that method at all. It doesn't give you time to think and puts a lot of pressure on you in general, so anyway, just be prepared for that.
Final Thoughts: We like Mexican food, but we're pretty much limited in scope to Pennsylvania's finest. Perhaps a trip down south would ruin PA Mexican for us forever. This really wasn't a bad spot for a vegetarian. Here were tons more choices here then we were used to, and the prices were pretty reasonable (except the chip refill charge). I just wish they went a little further with spice and flavor. And be weary of making special request, the language barrier could result in a non-vegetarian result.