Border town

above Maria Sanchez delivers fresh chips to from left Terry, Nikki and Linda Sanders.

Some places, the minute you walk in the door, there’s a good feeling. Alvarado’s is one of them.

It’s not a posh restaurant, but the two dining rooms are spotless and welcoming. Manager Rosa Torres greeted us with a smile before the door had even closed. Inside, the decor is tasteful, while not lavish. A shoulder-high wall displays an impressive collection of Christmas cacti; another, cutouts holding large colorful Mexican ceramic pieces. One room’s mural is painted to mimic hacienda windows looking out onto a Spanish colonial courtyard with a flowing fountain and garden. The illusion is naïve, but manages to be enchanting at the same time.

Once seated, our order was taken quickly, and service was attentive without being intrusive. The menu has been perfected over a long period of time.

“We’ve been in business here for 21 years,” said owner Carlos Alvarado, who has another location in Edmond, 1000 E. Second. “We’ve created our own specialties according to what our customers want.”

That equals original recipes from his birthplace in Mexico, tempered with the savvy that comes from working various metro restaurant gigs since 1956.

“Our food is not exactly like my mom, Teresa, used to make it back in San Luis Potosí, but it’s close” he said, adding that none of the food prepared onsite has been frozen or arrives in cans. “All our meals are prepared from scratch. There’s no canned chili here.”

One of the best of these home cocina-inspired dishes is tacos poblanos ($9.99). They start with two substantial house-made flour tortillas and fill them with your choice of beef or chicken. The tender, marinated meat has been sautéed with onions and poblano peppers. These peppers are not the “fouralarm” variety. Their flavor is mild, yet distinctive, and the secret to what makes the tacos so good.

The plate comes with a generous scoop of guacamole, sour cream and a bowl of frijoles machos — robust, ranch-style beans heavily infused with cilantro and onion, then simmered until their tastes mingle.

All meals start with crunchy tortilla chips and Alvarado’s salsa that walks the thin line between being too fiery or insipidly bland. It’s just right, with remarkable tomato and spice personality provided by an obviously experienced chef.

Mariano Carreon has been working in Alvarado’s kitchen for its entire two decades-plus. He has perfected guiso Mexicano ($9.49), Mexico’s answer to beef stew. Tender beef sirloin, tomatillo sauce, onion, jalapeño and cilantro are brought together in a spicy mélange. It’s served alongside frijoles refritos and rice. The entire dish is perfect for being scooped up together into a warm, fresh tortilla.

We’ve been here so long for a reason.

—Carlos Alvarado

gorditas are very popular,” Alvarado said of the $10.29 dish similar to
Latin American pupusas. The Mexican version is a thicker, seasoned
masa-dough tortilla that’s grilled. They’re filled with either spicy
ground beef or chicken, plus cheese and onions, with guacamole and pico
de gallo served on the side. Alvarado’s guacamole is rich and tangy with
a kiss of citrus.

Besides the standard sides, Alvarado’s features an uncommon one.

think we’re the only ones in town who has jalapeño rice on the menu,”
Alvarado said of his version of Spanish rice, with an abundance of the
minced pepper cooked with the grain.

with the Mexican specialties, there’s no shortage of customary Tex-Mex
plates. Fajitas (single, $12.99; double, $21.99), beef or chicken
chimichangas ($7.99) and crispy-shell tacos ($7.99) are available.

Although Alvarado’s competition includes dozens of other Mexican restaurants, the proprietor is not concerned.

“People can come, try us out and make up their own minds,” he said. “We’ve been here so long for a reason.”

Along with domestic suds, several Mexican beers are poured, including Pacifico, Modelo Especial and Tecate.

don’t skip dessert. The feather-light sopaipillas ($1.29) are dusted
with sugar and fragrant with cinnamon. The pillowshaped pastries may be
ordered with a brandy-butter sauce that’s magnifico.