Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

El Palenque: Mexican Menu Is Worth Its Salsa

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

El Palenque: Mexican Menu Is Worth Its Salsa

Article excerpt

I DON'T KNOW much about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but if the exchange brings us more good Mexican restaurants, it may turn out to have been a good idea. I'm not sure about Canadian restaurants.

Several new Mexican and Hispanic restaurants have opened in St. Louis recently, and a trip to El Palenque, in a far south county shopping center, brought a couple of pleasing meals, all at modest prices. It's difficult to spend much more than $10 for dinner, not counting drinks or tip.

Mexican restaurants are generally good bargains, a reason for their popularity, and even though the basic enchiladas, tacos, burritos and so on are close to the same, there are some good chances for a cook to show a little individuality with spicing and the use of slightly different ingredients.

For example, El Palenque offers corn and flour tortillas; both are made from flour, of course, but in Mexican restaurant parlance, "flour" means "wheat flour." In some areas, enchiladas are of corn and burritos of wheat. Time was when wheat was far more expensive than corn in Mexico, and peasants made tortillas from cornmeal while the upper classes used wheat. My own opinion is that the corn brings a far superior flavor to tortillas and enchiladas.

It's cheaper, too, with corn tortillas a nickel less than flour ones if ordered on an a la carte basis.

Another good Mexican habit, using chopped, or pulled, beef in enchiladas and tacos, too often has been Americanized into ground beef, or hamburger, and El Palenque has it both ways, though the interested diner has to ask. There's all the difference in the world between a taco with ground beef and one with chopped.

As a long-time fan of enchiladas verdes (green enchiladas), I was especially pleased with those at El Palenque, where the kitchen used a heavy hand with tomatillos, adding a lovely piquant quality to the sauce. The chicken in the enchiladas was tender, and the dish was splendid. I never have cared much for the rice in Mexican restaurants, and that at El Palenque was no exception. …

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