Saturday, April 14, 2007
2605 N 4TH Street
There are still times when I drive by that neon orange and green building on the corner of 4th and Appleway and long for the glory days of the Godfather’s Pizza’s all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. For years, many lazy noontimes were spent grazing over taco pizza, cheesy breadsticks, and yummy dessert pizza while watching talk shows on the house TV. Alas, it seems the chain has gone the way of the dodo, at least in our corner of the world. The short-lived Los Sanchez soon took over the building. Their food was one-half step above fast food - sometimes it was OK, sometimes borderline rancid. When they moved in, they did virtually no redecoration at all, which always left me with the uneasy feeling that I was dining in the corpse of a good memory – I still wanted pizza. Fortunately, any memory of Godfathers was permanently kaput with the opening of the Fiesta Mexicana Restaurant late last fall.
Not only is the outside of the building an acid trip in ‘70’s colors, but the color scheme inside is loco as well, all bright yellow, orange, and red sponge painted walls. The remodel here is quite drastic with the construction of several new walls to create separate areas, the addition of comfortable, overstuffed red booths, and classy modern colored-glass lamps hanging low above the tables. The former counter area is gone, and a small open bar area occupies the corner where the salad/salsa bar used to live. The owners have clearly put a lot of thought into the new look of the place, complete with fun knick-knacks everywhere that look like they could’ve been purchased at a street fair in Tijuana. Also, the landscaping here, formerly an eyesore on one of the city’s main intersections, has been much improved and makes the place seem inviting despite the headache-inducing color scheme of the actual building.
On a recent early Sunday afternoon the place was bubbling with activity, but my friend and I were seated right away by one of the many Latino boys sporting trendy ‘faux-hawk” hairdos. Seriously, all the hosts and waiters had this hairstyle going on and somehow it worked really well for them. Before we could even get out of our coats, our gracious host was delivering fresh, hot tortilla chips and homemade salsa to our table, along with water right away. To me, there’s no worse example of food service than seating people with no water right away. It should be there the moment you sit down, and to Fiesta Mexicana’s credit, it was. Also, I ordered a Pepsi, and when the waiter returned with it he said in his thick accent “Your Root Beer, sir…” and before I could muster a protest he laughed and said “Just kidding, you ordered Pepsi, right?” Sometimes just a little joke like that makes for a memorable and wonderful customer service experience, and so far so good.
I was especially famished and I already knew what I was going to order, so I didn’t really examine the menu too closely. I would say the fare is similar to what one would expect from a nice Mexican place where dinners run in the $8-$14 range. The menu was large and quite varied. I did notice lots of shrimp dishes, and even Menudo (I know, tripe - yuck – but you don’t see it too often), along with some interesting desserts and even homemade Sangria – a fruit and red wine combo that would have been delicious had I not been driving that day. My long-standing favorite Mexican dish is Pollo en Mole, and it’s always the first thing I try to test out a new Mexican place. Historically, Toro Viejo has the best in the area. So naturally that’s what I ordered, and my friend opted for his standard Carne Asada platter.
Our food arrived instantaneously along with a warning about the hot plates – “No touch!” Our platters were visually perfect, with melted cheddar over creamy refried beans, a heaping scoop of rice, and a sizzled green onion for garnish and color. The main event, however, was the chicken in mole. The sweetness of the chocolate and peanut butter mingling with spices in a rich sauce smothering tender strips of chicken breast, all scooped into a warm, fresh tortilla. Wow, wow, wow. Perhaps I was just especially ravenous that day, but the food was intensely delicious and I managed to finish every last spec, mopping up every last drop of that yummy brown sauce with my tortilla. My lunch partner was also in food heaven, and was raving about how he hasn’t had such good Carne Asada since he was a kid and his Mexican granny would make the real deal at home.
I’d heard from others who have eaten at the other Fiesta Mexicana on Spokane’s South Hill that they’re food was bland and nothing to write home about, but our experience was quite the opposite. The waiter cleared our licked-clean plates and returned with a small dish that had a couple of little deep fried cinnamon tortilla triangles topped with little mountains of whipped cream and drizzled with strawberry glaze. What a nice touch, and an excellent chaser to a fantastic meal.
The sign out front of the place says “Authentic Mexican Cuisine” and they aren’t fooling around. Between the blaring Tejano music, the Spanish yammering of the staff and some customers, the fun colorful atmosphere, and the delicious meal, I felt like I went on a mini-vacation south of the border. I was pleasantly surprised as well when the bill arrived. I could’ve sworn the menu had said that my dinner was $10.50 and my friend’s was $10.95, but we were only charged $6.95 for each and our sodas were free. Maybe there was a special lunch price we weren’t aware of, or perhaps it was a random (accidental?) discount, but it was a perfect way to end an all-together impressive and fabulous dining experience.