Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ramon's El Dorado: Where Food Is the Spice of Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ramon's El Dorado: Where Food Is the Spice of Life

Article excerpt

`LOCATION! Location! Location!" say real estate experts when they are asked the secret of success for a new business. Restaurateurs echo the chant.

Raymundo (Ramon) Otero obviously knew that when he opened Ramon's El Dorado some 15 years ago. The spot where two major roads meet in a "Y" just east of Fairmount Park Race Track, near Collinsville, Ill., is a splendid location, with easy visibility, access and parking.

But while he had a major plus in the location, Otero also had a huge minus in the building itself, a former gas station. The first time I visited, the remodeling had barely begun, and "primitive" was the best description of the interior. However, Otero's cooking skills were in place, and the caliber of the food was outstanding.

Today, Ramon's El Dorado has plenty of dining space, and no indication that the building ever was anything else. Otero also is preparing to open at a second location, in a former fast-food restaurant at Fairview Heights. The kitchen will be larger, he says, and he expects to expand the menu.

The original location has a standard menu, but everything is well-prepared and delightfully spiced. Service was only so-so, however, with a lack of attentiveness sometimes bothersome. In addition, I missed an opportunity because neither menu nor server mentioned it. I noted, one day, that my beef enchilada was filled with ground beef while the pork burrito benefited from shredded pork. On the way out, I asked Otero if the difference was because one was an enchilada and the other a burrito. He replied that I could order the meat any way I wanted it.

"Oh," I said, which was about all I could say.

A pair of recent visits, both well under $20 a person, were quite successful in every respect, right from the start, when the guacamole is memorable. No sour cream, no extenders of any sort, just freshly mashed guacamole, nice and lumpy, and a little garlic, pepper and onion. Chips are fresh, too, and there are two salsas, a red one with nice peppery overtones and a green one that should be used with considerable caution. Filled with chopped jalapenos and other hot peppers, it takes one's breath away. …

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