El Amanecer — April 10, 2010

11 04 2010

El Amanecer
194 Cesar Chavez Street
St Paul

It took us long enough, but we finally ventured across the metro to experience St. Paul. We had a longing for Mexican, and followed all the recommendations we’d had for anything on Cesar Chavez Street. Though it was a casual Saturday night dinner, we still wanted a sit-down experience — ruling out some of the small stands or grocery delis lining the street. El Amanecer’s large windows and claim for “authentic” Mexican food seemed to be just what we were looking for.

Walking up, we were somewhat impressed with the ambiance — not bad for a middle-of-the-road Mexican joint. The floors were carpeted, the walls colorfully painted and the tables nicely cleaned. Within moments, our waitress arrived with a basket of chips and a small side of salsa — something we had not yet experienced in our Minnesotan quest for Mexican food! The chips were clearly homemade (bagged chips don’t glisten with oil the way these did) with the right amount of salty and crunchy, and the salsa was perfectly seasoned and noticeably fresh. So far, so good.

Enchiladas hidden beneath a shield of cheese, with the fajita dish in the background

Unable to decide, Jim and I split two entrées (it should be noted that ordering a la carte was not an option, so my standard order of 3 tacos was out of the question). The first was a plate of 3 enchiladas — 2 chicken with green sauce, 1 beef with red sauce — paired with rice and beans. When the dish was first served, we didn’t think the enchiladas made it onto the plate. All we could see were the mounds of rice and beans and a thick layer of cheese. Turns out, the enchiladas were hidden underneath the melted gooeyness of cheese. We soon realized the cheese’s main role was to mask the fact that the enchiladas had no flavor. And the green sauce we had been looking forward to tasting was hardly present, save for a trail in the grease lining the cheese phenomenon.

The second entrée was barely an improvement. The grilled chicken fajita platter consisted of chicken bites with onion, tomato and bell peppers, all somewhat over-charred and under-flavored.  But where the spice was lacking, the oil was abundant. The only plus was the mini flour tortillas that came on the side, allowing us to make several smaller fajitas instead of two large ones.

El Amanecer’s service left much to be desired. Our waitress didn’t seem fully present at times, and made everything from taking our order to bringing our bill more difficult than necessary. But she was just the icing on the cake. From our first bites, we knew El Amanecer was just an ordinary Mexican restaurant with little to brag about. The only thing memorable about it was the unsettled feeling in our stomachs as we made our way to the parking lot. This is one place we’ll cross off our lists and never look back.

RATING (out of 5 ♠♠♠♠♠)
Ambiance/Environment: ♠♠ 1/2
Menu Selection: ♠♠ 1/2
Service: ♠♠
Food Taste & Presentation: ♠ 1/2

Total bill, including tip: $28

El Amanecer on Urbanspoon




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