My wife has a friend who told her about a newer Mexican restaurant over in Moline by the name of Los Montes. It's a little "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant with a lime green facade. It's been our experience that those are usually the best kind to find Mexican food. On a recent Friday night, we made the trip over to Moline to eat at Los Montes.
In Spanish, Los Montes means "The Mountains". But that's not where the restaurant got its name. The restaurant got its start after the patriarch of the Montes family began to cook food in his garage for family and friends. Prodded on by those who loved his food, the family found a little place on 16th St. in Moline not far from the Avenue of the Cities. (see map) Their specialty is al pastor - pork shoulder that is marinated in dried chiles, spices and pineapple juice. The pork is then put on a spit - shawarma style (something that Mexicans picked up from Middle Eastern immigrants - and shaved off similar to gyro meat.
Los Montes is only open until 8 p.m. and we got in there around 7:30. There's a small entry area, then a long hallway that goes past the kitchen on the way back to a larger dining area. There are windows that look into the kitchen and you can see the spits with the al pastor on them, as well as kitchen prep work going on.
The dining room is large and well lit. Some Mexican-style wall ornaments hang on the walls along with a number of pictures of people who have dined at Los Montes. We took a table in the back corner of the restaurant.
Our server for the evening, Sara, came over with menus and a bowl of piping hot tortilla chips and their housemade salsa. It was then that I found out that Los Montes doesn't have a liquor license so we couldn't get a margarita or a Mexican beer. But that was quite all right with me - I had a few beers before we came over (my wife drove) and I probably didn't need any more.
First of all, I have to say the chips were fresh and flaky. They were outstanding. The salsa was also very good with a small kick to the taste buds seconds after it left the tongue. The chips were some of the best I've ever had at a Mexican restaurant. You could tell they made them moments before we came in.
The menu was filled with very authentic Mexican dishes. One thing that caught my eye were the chile rellenos that you could get with either pork or cheese stuffing. Most Mexican restaurants around the Quad Cities only offer chile rellenos with a cheese stuffing and that's dull to me. But I had to try the chile rellenos.
The chile rellenos came with Mexican rice and refried beans, but I told Sara to just leave those off the plate with the chile relleno because I also wanted to try one of their pork carnitas tacos. I knew that if I got a taco to go along with the chile rellenos, I wouldn't even touch the rice and beans.
Cindy ordered up the shrimp fajitas. She had thought about trying an enchilada and a burrito, but wanted to give the shrimp fajitas a try.
Before dinner, Sara brought out three bottles of hot sauce. There was a deep red sauce in the first bottle - it was a smoky chipotle sauce that was good. The second bottle was a green tomatillo sauce that had a little bit of a peppery kick on the back side. I liked it a lot! The third bottle - the bottle from HELL - was a habanero sauce that was just ass-kicking hot! Oh, my GOD! I had a little bit on the end of a chip and it made my eyes water. OK, tried it - don't need to try it again.
Our meals made it out and Cindy's shrimp fajita plate was a colorful arrangement that included fresh avocado slices and a mix of grilled shrimp, peppers and onions. Freshly made and warm tortillas came with her dinner.
My chile rellenos looked interesting. They had strips of marinated sweet peppers on top of the battered peppers filled with the cubed pork. The chile rellenos swam in a light cheese sauce.
The carnitas taco had thick chunks of pork topped with chopped cilantro, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and some Chihuahua cheese. The taco was great on its own, but when I added some of the green sauce, the taste just jumped in my mouth.
Cindy thoroughly loved her shrimp fajitas. She said, "Some places over-serve the onions and peppers with fajitas, but this is a good mix of peppers and onions with the shrimp." She gave me a shrimp to try and it was grilled the way I like - on a flat top grill with a little butter. I may have to try the shrimp next time.
But my chile rellenos were simply outstanding. The smoky pepper with the egg batter, the cheese sauce and the chunks of pork folded inside were just an overwhelming wallop on the taste buds. The only thing that could have been better was if there was a good Mexican beer to go along with it. But that didn't matter.
When we paid up front, we were talking to Sara. It turned out that she was the owner's daughter. "I'm no longer a Montes, but we have plenty Montes' working here!"
She told us that the family was working on expanding into one of the buildings beside them. "It can get pretty crazy in here, especially at lunch." I worry about places like Los Montes expanding because they usually don't expand the kitchen - just the dining area - and they can't keep up with the orders with the extra diners.
We told her that we would be back and she offered us a card that is punched for each visit you spend at least $8 bucks. After the fifth punch, you get a free meal. She punched a card and handed it to me.
And we will be back. One thing that I'll have to find out is if they allow people to bring in their own beer or margaritas. It's not a deal breaker that they don't have alcohol, but sometimes I like a good margarita before a hearty Mexican dinner. Los Montes is a great addition to an already great local Mexican restaurant scene around the Quad Cities. And early returns indicate that it may be the best.