As I've said in many of my entries regarding Mexican restaurants in the Quad City area, we're very blessed to have a number of very good to great Mexican restaurants in town. There's a significant Hispanic population in the Quad's and that's why we have an abundance of authentic Mexican restaurants. One of those is a little place in Moline on top of the hill on 15th St. is Restaurante El Mariachi, or as the locals call it, just simply El Mariachi (see map).
Virginia and Alfredo Castro are the owner's of El Mariachi, a place they opened almost 9 years ago. Alfredo Castro learned how to cook from a Mexican chef and Virginia had a number of recipes that were handed down to her by her grandmother and mother. Alfredo and Virginia began their restaurant experience selling Mexican food out of a trailer they'd take around to events in the area. After people began to inquire where their restaurant was located, the Castros opened Restaurante El Mariachi in 2003. I've had Hispanic friends I know in the area tell me that the food at El Mariachi could easily be the most authentic of any Mexican restaurant in town. And given the amount of authentic Mexican restaurants in the area, that's saying a lot! And Virginia is also well-revered in the Latino community in the Quad Cities - she was recently named the Latina Business Owner of the Year by the Greater Quad City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
El Mariachi has a wide array of Mexican food to choose from including traditional cheese and onion enchiladas, homemade chile rellenos, chicken mole, and their popular Camaron Fiesta - a three course shrimp dinner consisting of a shrimp cocktail, shrimp salad and shrimp fajitas. It's also one of the very few places in the Quad Cities that features a traditional Mexican dessert - arroz con leche - a Mexican rice pudding.
During the lunch hours, El Mariachi features a popular Mexican buffet through the week and a Mexican breakfast buffet on Sundays consisting of pozole (pork stew), chilaquiles (fried tortilla mixed with egg and chicken), huevos a la mexicana con chorizo (Mexican style eggs with chorizo), pozole (pork stew) and a lot more including some traditional American breakfast staples. The lunch buffet (served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) is $8.95 a person while the Sunday breakfast buffet (served from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) is an overly reasonable $6.95 a person.
I was hesitant to talk about it on Road Tips, mainly because I'd really like to keep El Mariachi a secret. The food is priced extremely reasonably at El Mariachi. You get a lot for a good price. Most entrees and combinations top out at $8 to $10 bucks.
And the restaurant, itself, is not all that big - it seats, maybe, 56 people, and that's really cramming them in. And there's usually only one waitress and one bartender working in the place. Some nights, the bartender IS the waitress. But even with the small staff, we've always been served promptly and have never had an issue with being forgotten about. I'd sort of like to keep it that way.
And because it's one of our favorite restaurants, we usually go to El Mariachi once a month. They have two dining rooms in the restaurant - a lower dining area just inside the entrance, and the upper area that features the bar, a couple booths and three or four tables. We usually like to sit up near the bar, especially in the winter time, as it can get a little cool with the door opening and closing all the time. During a recent visit to El Mariachi, it was a Friday night and the upper part of the restaurant was full. It doesn't take many people to make it full. We were forced, actually for the first time, to sit in a booth along the far wall as you come in.
They have wonderful margaritas at El Mariachi and up until a couple years ago it used to be one of the few places in the Quad Cities that had Sol beer available. But they do have Dos Equis, which is still pretty darn good. Sometimes I'll get a margarita while I'm waiting for the meal, but then get a Dos Equis (or two) with my meal. I think there's nothing better than having an ice cold Mexican beer with authentic Mexican food.
And while El Mariachi has a number of authentic and unique entrees to choose from, I like to order the combinations which is like ordering two, three or four items a la carte including enchiladas, burritos, regular tacos, specialty tacos, tamales and three or four other types of Mexican food, served with rice and beans. Cindy is sort of fond of the enchiladas at El Mariachi and that's exactly what she got this time we went (below left). The enchilada platter is served with Mexican rice, refried beans, chopped lettuce and tomatoes.
Everything is so good at El Mariachi, I have a lot of problems figuring out what I want on any given visit. This particular visit I got a large combination dinner (above right) where you get your choice of 4 different types of Mexican specialties. The large combination I had that evening consisted of a beef flauta, a pork tamale, a beef enchilada and a pork carnitas taco. The tacos aren't very big at El Mariachi and I can usually kill an order of 3 pretty easily - that is, if I don't overindulge on the great homemade chips and salsa they bring to the table when you first sit down. My combination plate with Mexican rice and refried beans came to just under $10 bucks. That's a lot of food for $10 dollars.
While Road Tips doesn't have a huge following (but we seem to be garnering more people on a weekly basis - and I thank you for that), I didn't want the word to get out on El Mariachi - one of the best kept secrets in the Quad Cities. The food is authentic and excellent. The margaritas are tasty and the beer is cold. And the service is wonderful and the staff is always attentive and friendly. Just do me a favor - don't tell anyone else about El Mariachi. Let's keep it our little secret.