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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lawrence, KS: Good Mexican Food, Strong Margaritas, Fair Prices

El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant
1819 W 23rd St 
Lawrence, KS 66046
(785) 832-8775
El Mezcal Website

Prices $$$$$
We tried the El Mezcal on Iowa Street (now closed) shortly after moving to Lawrence last summer and were not impressed. So when I read the yelp* reviews for the 23rd Street location, e is such a thingI was a bit surprised that they were consistently so good. In fact, a fellow Elite '14 member, Alicia "Lush" R, had high praise for their food, service, and margaritas, so I had to give them a try.

Small Guacamole
I am admittedly a Mexican food snob, if there is such a thing, having grown up in LA where hispanics seem to outnumber us gringos (PC???) and Mexican restaurants outnumber McDonalds. As usual, I stick with the basics the first time I visit a restaurant to see if they can get them right before moving on to more complex dishes.

Queso Blanco
We ordered the small guacamole ($3.79) and the highly touted white cheese dip (queso blanco - small - $3.79). The guacamole was very good, made with fresh avocado and NO TOMATO, well seasoned and a fair portion for the prices. The queso blanco was also scrummy as advertised, warm and well seasoned, but not too hot as my wife does not like her food too spicy. I had the 27 ounce margarita (on the rocks - $4.99) which was good, strong, and very reasonably priced, and my wife had the horchata, a Mexican rice-base drink which was a bit watery for our taste.

My wife ordered the vegetarian special #1, a cheese quesadilla and cheese and onion enchilada (with queso blanco instead of red sauce - she hates tomatoes - $7.49), coming with retired beans. It is difficult to screw-up a quesadilla and El Mezcal was no exception. The enchilada was good, but the beans rather bland, missing that fatty taste traditional refried beans emanate hence the name "refried".

Beef Tacos ala Carte
I decided to forego the rice and beans and get down to brass tacks, ordering the beef tacos ($3.99) and cheese and onion enchiladas ($5.79) ala carte. The tacos came in prefab shells, normally a dead giveaway for bad food, but they were actually pretty good. The ground beef was well seasoned, the shells not too soft, not too crispy, holding up well to the punishment my teeth inflicted, with a little lettuce and plenty of white cheese. Their menu mentions "juicy tomato", but there were none in my tacos, my only complaint other than the prefab shells. I saved some guacamole for my tacos and added their salsa which was pretty good, making up for the lack of tomatoes.

Cheese and Onion Enchiladas ala Carte
The cheese and onion enchiladas were tasty, but so tough (yes, tough) that I could not cut them with a fork and my knife even had difficulty at times. I like burnt, crispy cookies and brownies, so I actually enjoyed the crunchiness. It was obvious that they had been either broiled or microwaved too long BEFORE adding the enchilada sauce, which was actually very good. My only other recommendations would be to flash fry the tortillas before filling them, adding the sauce and some white cheese on top before putting them under the broiler to melt. There was also about 50% too much sauce, a waste of money considering the fact that I left much of it on my plate.

El Mezcal was a nice surprise after the ho-hum experience we had at the Iowa Street location. The decor is colorful and reminiscent of old Mexico complete with a small fountain and the service attentive, friendly, and fast. Not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence, but we will return from time to time for the cheap, abundant margaritas if nothing else.

CombatCritic Gives El Mezcal 7 Out of 10 Bombs ... BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Read Chris S.'s review of El Mezcal on Yelp

Key Words: El Mezcal. el, mezcal, Mexican, restaurant, food, eat, taco, enchilada, guacamole, margarita, burrito, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

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