Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Las Mojarras – Minneapolis, MN

Some friends were having a double birthday party and thought they’d invite everyone they know to go out to dinner and then some drinks. Of course I was in, especially when I found out it was a place I hadn’t been before. Despite Las Mojarras being a small village in Argentina, Las Mojarras was like no Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s a one-stop-shop for all your banquet/wedding/dining needs. Even before I get to the food, I’ll explain what this place has going on – it’s a lot.

First off, there is a dining room – pretty standard for a restaurant, I suppose. It’s straight forward, but there are some televisions and a SERIOUS sound system for karaoke. Which is a pretty big deal at Las Mojarras.

Then there’s a larger dining space with room to move long tables around in a banquet-style reception area. This was where we were seated. I’m not sure who booked the room, but when we told them there would be 20+ people, they pulled out all the stops. They put white seat covers on all the chairs and bows and table settings and fancy napkins. They were quite serious about us having a professional experience at their place. In fact, we were all pretty impressed. I had hoped no one told them it was a small wedding or something inaccurate. Just a nice birthday party.

Then there’s a serious bar. Plenty of tequilas and Mexican beers for us to drink. And they do make a strong margarita. I forgot to take a photo of the giant fish tank, but believe me, you can’t miss it.

Ok, enough with the standard restaurant-y things.

There’s a small stage – we’re not sure if it’s for puppet shows for the kids or dramatic renderings of community theater. But it’s there.

In the back of the place, there’s a Frida Kahlo-themed hair salon. Yes, I said hair salon. It looks like they’re doing some renovations in that area, but I’m sure it will be open soon.

There’s a huge glassed-off enclosure that I can only explain as a display case for potential wedding setups. There are multiple full size tables set up with place settings and fine china with bolts and bolts of different cloth patterns and colors. Different candelabras and table centerpieces, and tons of other things you might need for a large banquet. All set up for you to sit down and see if you enjoy it. And all hermetically sealed and cordoned off. Now we know why we got the royal table treatment for our riff-raff group.

And the Pièce de résistance: the Virgin Mary Breathalyzer. You read that correctly. It will cost you a dollar (in quarters), and you’ll need your own straw. But since they mix their drinks strong here, I’m guessing people utilize this machine more than you might think. Absolutely awesome. Both Mary and the Breathalyzer are fully functional.

Now I’ll get to the food.

The chips and salsa were better than average. Pretty good (and mild) salsa and thick cut tortilla chips with just enough salt. I was happy with this, even though we didn’t have a very quick turnaround on the refills of these. We were sitting and looking at empty bowls much more than we were eating chips. Bummer.

The menu is about average (both in number of items and prices). There were a lot of seafood dishes – which makes sense since Mojarras are fish – and plenty of other things for non-seafood eaters. I found a few things I wanted and finally decided on a Chimichanga. Normally, I want something more adventurous than this bastardized American version of a burrito, but it still rang a bell in my head and eventually won out.

I know we were a large group, but I didn’t think it was large enough to warrant the time it took to serve us. We were served individually over the space of about 35-40 minutes. No lie. The person next to me was half way done with hers before mine entrée came out. The person across from me was the last one served and everyone had finished eating. Some of us sat around after other people had left since he was still eating his dish. A LONG time to wait (especially without chips being refilled to snack on in the meantime.

The food was generous – very large portions. My chimichanga was one of the largest I’ve had around here and was decent. The chopped beef on the inside was cooked, but didn’t seem to be seasoned very well. It was fine, but I thought there would be more. A few of us asked for more salsa (since it wasn’t being refilled at the tables) so we could add some dimension of flavor that was missing. It wasn’t BAD or anything, it just was a little bland – even by Minnesotan standards. I was kind of bored with my dish about ¾ of the way through, but I kept eating since the guy across from me was eating by himself at that point. Solidarity, my man. The rice and beans and guacamole were all just ok. Maybe I should have gotten something more adventurous. I’m not sure if I can chalk this one up to ordering error or not. Maybe.

And on the speed front, it took us over 25 minutes to pay for our meals. I’m not sure if it was a computer oddity, but we had to pay in order of placing our order. If you ordered last, you had to wait for everyone else to pay first. I’m not sure why, since we all had separate checks in our hands, but that’s just how it happened. So the server would grab our bill and credit card/cash, go in back and ring it up, and walk back out a few minutes later. There were 20 of us and it took forever. Sorry to complain about this – I usually don’t, but there were a lot of comments about it from everyone. Thankfully, we had the awesomeness of the main dining room karaoke to tide us over while we waited.

Average food and slow service remind me I have a ton of other Mexican restaurants to try before I head back here. Based on some other reviews, this might not be an unusual experience.

Top 5 things about Las Mojarres
1. Atmosphere – this place has it
2. Chips and salsa
3. Drinks were strong
4. Sooooo much awesome in one building – Breathalyzer Mary, salon, wedding display case, etc.
5. Staff were very nice

Bottom 5 things
1. Speed of service
2. Chimichanga was bland, as were a few other people’s dishes
3. Billing issues
4. We sat there long enough waiting to pay that no one even needed to use the Breathalyzer
5. There were some portion discrepancies at the bar with the size of comparable drinks. Some people got smaller glasses – visibly – and paid the same amount

Las Mojarres
1501 E. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407

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