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Diablitos Cantina – Roller Coaster of Emotions

February 21, 2012

When I heard about the new, funky Mexican restaurant in Midtown, my heart skipped a beat.  1. It was a new place to try in my quest for decent Mexican food in St. Louis.  2. Catherine Neville (of Feast fame) was apparently heard swooning about it on the radio.  3. THERE ARE DINOSAURS WEARING SOMBREROS ON TOP OF THE BUILDING.   Perhaps my Mexican food expectations are too high/I’m too picky.  In any event, after lunch there, I wasn’t exactly in a swoon-like state.  Diablitos will absolutely get another shot to win me over – they’re new.  However, the sin of horrible salsa is difficult one to forget – prepare for a salsa rant.

First off, though, whoever decorated/designed the place took the proverbial balls to the wall.   You walk in the door and BAM – day of the dead, conquistador, spanish inquisition madness.  Particularly liked the lanterns scattered over different zones.  Could have done with a bit of editing though — the kitschy, crappy, pseudo 1950’s posters in the bathroom had zip to do with the over-the-top theme in the restaurant.  Confusing.

Secondly (and jumping ahead to the main course), the food was acceptably tasty.  The tacos al pastor were just a touch sweet (someone in the kitchen likes sugar), but that was remedied with some cabbage slaw.  Refried beans were more or less goo, but then I’m not a refried beans person.  Rice was fine.  A creation called the Austin  (two flour tortillas filled with chicken adobo, peppers onions and cheese – flash fried and topped with queso blanco and guacamole) was pretty enjoyable.  Yet, it took me a bit to recognize that the food was good since it arrived at least 40 minutes after we ordered it.  They get a pass, for two reasons: it had been their first larger lunch run and they comped half our meal because of the wait – they’re trying and they’re new.

Finally, the promised salsa rant.  So, Diablitos has opted to do a salsa bar.  That’s fine.  Tortillaria does the salsa bar thing quite well.  But.  Diablitos charges $2 a pop for unlimited salsa, per person.  Initially (before eating said salsa), I was a little taken aback, but actually was cool with this.  I can – and do – consume mass amounts of salsa and it seems only fair that if I come in and get a meals’ worth of chips and salsa with my margarita, then I should have to pony up.  However, after tasting what they claimed was salsa and upon reflection, no, I think their non-gratis salsa plan sucks, to put it plainly.  From the humble Mexico Chiquito in North Little Rock to the glorious Frontera Grill in Chicago, salsa is free with a meal.  Not only is it free salsa, but it’s damn delicious salsa too.  And you, Diablitos, want to charge $2 for less than mediocre salsa?  For shame.  Their house, headlining salsa was the texture of extremely smooth/thick baby food, had no heat, and was way too sweet (eeee, sugar).  The salsa verde likewise lacked any punch – devoid of heat and the familiar tang of tomatillos.  The corn and bean salsa – again, bland, more akin to a side dish/salad than a salsa, and mealy/dry.  The mango salsa had huge chunks of mushy mango.  The roasted vegetable salsa was probably the only one that was halfway  decent…that we tried.  There were at least a couple more, but they seemed even less promising, and as the long wait for the food dragged on, yet more disappointing salsa was not going to help my mood.

So, that’s Diablitos now.  We’ll see how they fare in a month or so.

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