On a recent Monday night date night with my wife, we decided to head over to one of our favorite restaurants, the Mediterranean-themed Sultan's in Rock Island. When we pulled up to the place, we were shocked and crestfallen to see that it was closed - as in out of business. I hate it when I get all fired up for place to eat at only to find that it's closed - either for the day or - for good, as in Sultan's case. Suddenly I was in a funk as to where to go eat. My wife threw out a couple suggestions for Mexican, but we both knew they were closed on Mondays. Finally, she came up with a suggestion of a place we hadn't eaten at for quite sometime and we we checked to see if they were open - and they were. We headed over to Maria's Mexican Restaurant in Moline.
Maria and Luis Esparza came to the U.S. in 1970, but it wasn't until 16 years later that the couple opened Maria's located in the heart of Moline's Old Towne neighborhood. It was one of the first authentic Mexican restaurants in Moline and quickly became a favorite with the locals. Maria and Luis' son helps run the place today - and it turned out that he was the one who happened to wait on us this particular evening.
Now, we've eaten at Maria's a handful of times before. The first time is still talked about between my wife and I for the immediate aftermath of the dinner. Something went right through us after eating at Maria's and it was all we could do to get home without having a bodily accident. The house we were living in at the time was a one bathroom dwelling so the verbal argument in the car of who was going first escalated as we pulled up in front of the house. We both made it all right and we still laugh about it today. But it was a number of years before we went back to Maria's.
Subsequent trips to Maria's have not yielded the same "Montezuma's Revenge" problems. But it's always at the back of our minds when we enter Maria's.
Maria's is located on 7th Street in Moline across the street kitty-cornered from where the famed Belgian Village Restaurant once was. (see map) Maria's is in a nondescript building on the east side of the street with metal bars across the small windows on the front of the building. While there is a parking lot behind Maria's, we found a spot on the street just across from the restaurant.
We've been going to Maria's for over 20 years and the place hasn't changed much from the first time we entered the place. There's two areas in Maria's - it was once two buildings, but they busted out the wall between the main dining area and a back dining area with the bar in it. The dining room is a little more elegant with high-backed booths, sturdy wooden tables and ornamental lights hanging from the ceiling.
We sat back in the bar area with a high tin ceiling, faux awnings over booths, neon beer signs and a television playing the Cubs game near the bar. We took a seat in one of the booths along the wall.
As I said, one of Luis and Maria Esparza's sons - I can't remember his name - came over to wait on us from behind the bar. I ordered up a Sol beer and Cindy got a margarita. He brought back the Sol with a frosted mug, along with a bowl of fresh made tortilla chips and a generous bowl of their salsa. The salsa was very flavorful and had a bit of a spicy bite on the back end of the taste.
The food at Maria's is your typical Mexican fare - enchiladas, burritos, tacos, combo plates, etc. Everything is made from scratch and you can end up having a bit of a wait while they prepare the food in the kitchen. I've been told that they don't microwave the food at Maria's and that's a plus compared to some Mexican restaurants in the Quad Cities.
This evening, I went with the beef enchiladas with chile verde sauce. The beef enchiladas normally come with a red sauce, but I asked if they could do the chile verde sauce on the beef. He was sort of incredulous that I asked. "You don't like the red enchilada sauce on the beef," he asked somewhat stunned. "We make it that way for a reason." I told him that I knew that, but I would prefer the chile verde sauce that they use on the chicken enchiladas instead of the regular red enchilada sauce. He sort of turned his head in amazement, said, "All right", and wrote my order down. It was almost like I hurt his feelings by having the gall to ask for something different than the family recipe they made for beef enchiladas.
The beef enchiladas were topped with Chihuahua cheese and had a small amount of the chile verde sauce. I almost asked if I could get more of the green sauce, but given how I had seemed to touch a nerve by asking for the chile verde on the beef enchiladas, I thought I'd better not. Mexican rice and refried beans came with the enchiladas. They were filled with seasoned ground beef and had a good taste overall. Each bite was beef filled and cheesy with a bit of the chile verde flavor mixed in.
Cindy got the chicken tacos with a side of rice and refried beans. The tacos were filled with chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes and sprinkled with chunks of Chihuahua cheese. She felt the tacos, too, were good. Not great, but good.
And that's always been our experience at Maria's. The food is good, the atmosphere is homey and the service - as long as you don't hurt their feelings by asking to substitute enchilada sauces - has always been good and friendly. Maria's isn't the fanciest place to have Mexican food, but it's consistent. And that's what we like looking for in our Mexican food places around the Quad Cities.