The "Rest in Peace" category of Road Tips is one of the more popular links that I have within this blog. One of the earliest entries had to do with the closing of one of my all-time favorite Mexican restaurants, Raul's in Des Moines. Raul Hernandez was in his late 70's and found that his health couldn't allow him to keep up with and compete against many of the small taquerias that had sprung up around the Des Moines area. The Hernandez family shut the doors of his original restaurant on East Grand and the one out in the suburb of Urbandale. I was really bummed because Raul's was the place where I was introduced to real authentic Mexican food, not the American-ized version of such that you find at most Mexican food chains. And I am proud to say that I turned Raul's on to a lot of friends during their existence.
So, it was to my delight to hear that Raul's daughter, Connie Hernandez-Limke and her husband, David, re-opened Raul's in a new location in West Des Moines (see map) last May using many of the same recipes that Raul and Josephine Hernandez used at their original East Grand location since 1962. Since Raul's had closed in 2005, Connie Hernandez-Limke was selling Raul's enchiladas, salsa and other items at area farmers markets. She was convinced by many who continually bought her goods to open a new restaurant. Luckily for many of the fans of the original Raul's and those who were buying her food at the farmers market, she and her husband decided to re-open Raul's. I was in Des Moines recently on my way to Kansas City early one evening and decided to stop into the new Raul's for a bite to eat to check it out.
Along with the help from Jackie Hernandez-Wells, the Limke's opened the new Raul's in a building that used to house a number of restaurants along 8th Street in West Des Moines, including Fratellos, which became the Coaches Lounge, then was sold and turned into the Skybox Lounge. They had a soft opening in May last year, but had a grand re-opening on June 12 - Raul Hernandez's 82nd birthday. And the Hernandez sisters brought back one of the most popular aspects about Raul's - the lunch buffet served between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday's through Friday. (Raul's is closed Sunday and Monday.)
I pulled into Raul's about 6:30 that evening and went inside the front door. A long bar is situated on one wall of the building and on your right as you walk in there's a little "den area" that has a fire place and a few tables to eat or to just relax over a margarita and some chips and salsa. There's a main dining area with an open kitchen (the kitchen at the original Raul's allowed you to look inside to see the food being prepped, as well). A hostess came up to greet me and asked if I wanted to sit at the bar. I decided that I would rather sit in one of the booths toward the back of the restaurant. She dropped off a menu for me and a bus boy came over with a basket of chips and a bowl each of Raul's homemade mild salsa and somewhat more spicy salsa. I like to add both of them together for an added taste sensation to the mild salsa.
My waitress soon came over to get my drink order. It turns out they were having a margarita special that evening - a 16 oz. "Grandpa Margarita" that Raul's was/is so famous for $5.00. Their Grandpa Margarita consists of Cuervo Gold tequila, triple sec and Raul's homemade lime juice, shaken together and served over ice. (They also have a version of the Grandpa Margarita where they add Grand Marnier on top. Cindy really likes that one.)
The waitress came out with my margarita and told me that she'd give me a little more time to look at the menu. Des Moines is famous for their deep fried flour tacos and Raul's had some of the best around. And they also had what I deem are the best chile rellenos I've ever had. They take an poblano pepper, stuff it with cheese and seasoned ground beef, dip it in a batter and deep fry the chile relleno for a few moments. Then they top it with Raul's homemade relleno sauce. I ordered a couple of the beef flour tacos and a chile relleno - ala carte. By that time, I had made short work of my margarita and ordered up a Sol.
When the waitress came out with my food and my first impression was, "Oh, my GOD! That's a lot of food!" My second reaction was that the fried flour tacos weren't exactly as I remember at the original Raul's. The ones I remember were sort of more enclosed than opened as the ones that are pictured below left. And they were smaller than these. And from my first bite, I knew something else was different. The meat was different. I couldn't quite place the taste, but it was sort of spicy and wasn't what I remembered from the original Raul's beef taco. It wasn't that it was unpleasant, but it sort of jarred me a bit because I didn't think it was the same.
But the chile relleno was exactly as I remembered. A big poblano pepper stuffed with Mexican cheese and beef, dipped in an egg batter and deep fried for a moment. The chile relleno came with three soft flour taco shells to dip into the tasty relleno sauce. The chile relleno, on its own, is a meal and a half. I was able to put a significant dent into the chile relleno, finish one of the tacos and a portion of the second one. Note to self - next time, get just ONE taco with the chile relleno.
The waitress came over and asked me how my dinner was. I told her that I thought there was something different about the taco meat - I didn't remember the beef tasting that way. She seemed sort of perplexed and said, "Well, it's the same recipe that we've had for years. I don't think they've changed it."
I sort of shrugged my shoulders and said, "Well, it's not exactly as I remember. But, then again, it's been six years since I've had a Raul's taco. But, I'll tell you. The chile relleno was exactly as I remember as just as good as I remember."
It's not that the tacos were bad. I was just expecting something else as far as the taste of the beef was concerned. But the trip to Raul's for the chile relleno was worth every cent and more. I've eaten in a number of Mexican restaurants over the years and have tried a number of chile rellenos and I have yet to find one that is as good as the one at Raul's. I'm overly happy that Raul's has re-opened. It gives me another place to eat when I get to Des Moines.