If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am dead set against going to chain restaurants when a local establishment will do for dinner. Unfortunately, sometimes I have to suck it up and get a meal at a chain because A) I'm not familiar with the area; or B) It's late and I need to get something in my stomach.
The "B" scenario came into play recently as I got into Indianapolis late (and I lost an hour because of the time zone change). I got to my hotel around 9:30 p.m. and asked if anything was open and serving food. The desk clerk directed me to an area in the Carmel area north of Indy and he said a number of restaurants should still be serving food past 10 p.m.
Don Pablo's is a chain of "Tex-Mex" Mexican restaurants that started in Lubbock, TX in the mid-80's. Although there are still a few in Texas and Oklahoma, most of the restaurants are situated in the eastern part of the country.
In the mid-90's, Don Pablo's was bought by Avado Brands from Georgia. Avado Brands went on an aggressive campaign to add more Don Pablo's restaurants, as well as developing the Hops Grill and Brewery restaurants along the east coast.
Growing too quickly, Avado Brands had a financial set back which caused them to scale back or close a number of Don Pablo's and Hops restaurants a couple three years ago. At one point there were 72 Hops restaurants in 16 states. There are now something like 22 in seven states. And Don Pablo's totaled well over 100 restaurants, but are now down to 95 restaurants in 19 states.
I knew that the food would come quickly after I ordered, so I parked the car and went in. I walked in at 10 till 10 that evening and they close at 10 p.m. There was no one at the hostess stand. Finally a bartender came over and I asked, "Is it too late for dinner?"
She said, "No, as long as you order in 10 minutes." I just walked over to the bar and sat down. She handed me a menu and I quickly looked it over. I ordered a Dos Equis Amber on tap and got one of their combo meals of a spicy beef taco (deep fried), a spicy shredded beef enchilada and a chile relleno stuffed with spicy beef.
I feel bad walking into places like that 10 minutes before they are going to close up, but as many times that I apologized to the bartender, she would have nothing of it. "I don't get out of here until about 11 o'clock anyway. That's when I'd have to kick you out."
Another bartender brought my food out and it was a plate full. The chile relleno was big and cheesy, the enchilada had a lot of meat in it. But I was disappointed in the "fried" taco. I think they just take a hard corn taco shell and deep fry it before putting the filling in. It was crispy, but the taste was nondescript.
But overall, the meal was good. The food at Don Pablo's is somewhat Americanized, but compared to a number of other Mexican food restaurant chains I've eaten in, it's not bad. The food leans a little more to the spicy end of the scale, which is fine with me. The meal I had that evening, I wouldn't call it a spot hitter, but it worked that evening. Total cost of the meal with one large Dos Equis beer (23 ounces) and tip came to about $16 bucks.
Don Pablo's isn't great, but it's not bad for a chain. Especially for something on the quick - and for a later in the night meal. It is one of the few chains that I'll go to in a pinch.