Guadalajara Cafe, at 1144 W. 103rd Street, is a study in contrasts, albeit an unintentional one. Somethings they do really well, and in other areas, well, let's just say they're lacking.
Located in a fairly non-descript shopping center, I've passed this way hundreds of times, with usually no more than the passing thought, "I should try that place." On Friday, my wife and I decided we would finally try it out. And I'm not sure how I feel about it...
On the one hand, everything we consumed here was pretty good. On the other, most of the intangibles for this place sucked.
Case in point, the decor. Whoever designed the interior of this place seems to have been suffering from split personality disorder, because it's not clear if it's intended to be a white tablecloth restaurant, or a Mexican cantina, as both are represented, and neither done particularly well. With tables in straight lines and at 90 degree angles to one another, this place was vaguely reminiscent of a high school cafeteria. Toss a few star-shaped light fixtures, and you've got a Martha Stewart nightmare. And of course, the Christmas tree and holiday music didn't help much...
On the other hand, this place has fantastic margaritas. We both went with the Guadalajara Margaritas on the rocks, and we were not disappointed, as these were big margaritas, not the wimpy ones you see at lots of Mexican places. Mixed strong, but not overwhelming, I didn't mind shelling out six bucks a pop for them.
However, I did mind waiting 20 minutes for a waiter to appear and take our drink orders. I'm not sure what the deal was, but we arrived right at the tail end of the dinner rush, when the big Friday night crowd was finishing and leaving. As such, our waiter shouldn't have been overwhelmed. But after being seated and given menus, we sat completely unattended for 15 minutes before a silent and surly kid brought us chips and salsa. Then we waited another 5 minutes before our waiter appeared and took our drink order, and then another 10 until he returned with our drinks and took down our food order,even though we had decided within 10 minutes of being seated...
But let's back up for a moment, to the chips and salsa. The chips at Guadalajara are really good, as good as fried tortillas with salt can be. Paired with their homemade salsa with chunks of fresh onion, tomato and cilantro, I was very pleased with this. This proved to be just a primer for the meal, which featured authentic Mexican food (not Tex-Mex) and was good all around. Natasha went for the Seafood Burrito Acapulco, and I choose the Camarones del Diablo, and both were good choices.
Natasha's was a huge burrito stuffed with shrimp, talapia, scallops and real crab, topped with a cream sauce, with Spanish rice, tomatoes and avocados on the side. Really good, overall, and added points for using real crab, which has a different texture than the fake stuff. The cream sauce was good, though not particularly unique, but the flavors of the dish all around were quite satisfying.
As for me, I had the Camarones del Diablo, which was shrimp, onions and mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce, served with tortillas and rice. While I enjoyed this dish, the Diablo sauce was a little too tomato-y. It tasted a lot like tomato juice, which it probably was, and that out muscled the flavor of the shrimp and especially the mushrooms. This is not to say, however, that it was unpleasant, as it was an enjoyable dish. My rice side was not Spanish rice, but instead some sort of fried rice, which served as a nice, starchy counterpoint to the entree.
Overall, we recieved a huge amount of food for around $12-16 per entree, and it was all good. While the service and atmosphere weren't the best, the authentic Mexican flavors are sure to bring us back to Guadalajara cafe at some point.