Thursday, September 18, 2008

Don One

I waited until after the first week before attempting a visit to Don Carlos. This Houston based small chain (4 locations - 3 in Houston) hit Waco around mid-August. As usual in Waco, it has been swamped with customers since the opening. The fact that the opening date was published in the paper was probably an error. A soft and quiet opening a few days in advance of the published date would have given the management a few shifts to work out any kinks in the kitchen or in the front of the house. I always advise people to wait a while but many want to be the first to each new place.

Judging from what I heard from some of these earlybirds service has been an issue. Some of the complaints are probably due to long wait times, some to inexperienced staff, and in some cases it appears that the kitchen may have been surprised and overwhelmed by the traffic. They probably should have called and talked to the people at Cheddar's.

I made first visit on a weekday morning when I completed a trip to Best Buy. I was driving by at about 11:20 AM and decided to beat the rush. This proved to be a good strategy because when I left about fifty minutes later the wait was over 40 minutes. This also allowed me to get fresh and hot food from the kitchen without a long service delay.

The lunch menu at Don Carlos is of unusually good value. I expected smaller servings and higher prices but was very surprised by the quantity, quality, and price of my three enchilada plate. I hope this is not just an introductory offer but I don't see how that can serve three beef enchiladas, rice, beans, chips, salsa, and queso for $4.95. That's right - I paid $4.95. I am eager to return at lunch just to see if this is still the price.

Of course price doesn't matter if the food is bad. It wasn't. Just the basics first. I loved the lightweight chips that were fresh and crisp. The fire-roasted tomatoes added an extra dimension to the warm bowl of salsa that came with the chips. Not too spicy but good flavor. Flour and corn tortillas were about average. The beans were very good. I thought that the refried and the charo beans had good texture, aroma, and taste. The rice clumped a little and could have used some additions. It was just OK.

On my second visit (late dinner), we waited about fifteen minutes for a table. Service was quick and efficient. I ordered a grilled sirloin dish and was very satisfied with the size of the cut and the flavor. There was a bit of toughness on one edge of the meat but not enough to spoil the dish.

Take your time and give the menu a full read. You will find some dishes with some unusual ingredients that we don't often see in Waco, Texas.

It took about twenty-five minutes from order to table. This a bit too long but not unacceptable at the end of a busy evening.

My third visit was on Fajita Night (Wednesday). Walked in at 8:15 PM and although the restaurant was crowded, we had no wait for a table for five. Beef or Chicken, fajitas were offered for a special price of $8.95! This is $3.00 below the regular menu price.The chicken was tasty and plentiful. I could have made four well stuffed fajitas of six normal ones. The plater of meat was accompanied by onions, peppers, rice, beans, tortillas, pico de gallo, and avocados. The plates arrived within fifteen minutes and the service was sharp and attentive.

Margaritas were pronounced good and were fairly priced. An order of sweet and crispy sopapillas topped off the dinner.
I have spoken to several people who have placed this new restaurant at the top of their list for Mexican food in Waco. I have to agree with them. I have been to Don Carlos three times and it has been better each visit.

I think it is too early to proclaim Don Carlos as the King of All Mexican Food in Waco. But Don Carlos has made a good start by providing ample servings and delivering strong dollar value at both lunch and dinner. If you were one of the unlucky ones that visited Don Carlos too early, wait another week or two and try it again.