Poblanos Mexican Bar and Grill
551 River St.
Chattanooga, TN 37405
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
11 a.m.-12 a.m.
12 p.m.-10 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it.
After running a restaurant in Dalton, Ga., catering to the Hispanic population of the area with traditional Mexican dishes, owners Steve and Irma Hyde recently opened Poblanos Mexican Bar and Grill back in June close to Coolidge Park, boasting that they bring authentic Mexican cuisine to the North Shore area. I had heard some good things about Poblanos from friends shortly after they opened, and having tried many Mexican restaurants around town, I was really hoping to find something different. The prospects were promising at Poblanos because many recipes were passed down from Irma’s Mexican family traditions, so I roamed on over to sample the selection.
I arrived last Friday evening-which was the first break from torrential downpours last week-and although I was tempted to sit on their huge patio to take in the recently rare, nice weather, my party and I decided to sit inside. The interior was an open area that was warm and inviting with a large bar in the back, and there wasn’t a very large crowd, so we were seated immediately. My server was attentive to the table and very friendly-although he still needed to learn a bit more about some of the dishes on the menu, but this is a new operation still getting its footing, so that’s understandable.
The menu had just enough variance, not overly bloating itself with soulless variations of the same ingredients like you see so often in Mexican restaurants-it’s much better to concentrate on the quality of a more specialized menu to give the dishes their own personalities. My server said the menu would be updated with even more selections soon, so I’m interested to see what else they will be offering after fine-tuning their initial lineup, but I hope they keep it a similar, focused size.
As with many Mexican restaurants, chips and salsa were served with the meals. The chips were obviously freshly made and weren’t too salty. This salsa had finely diced tomatoes, peppers and onions, and the salsa would also be my initial encounter here with my ol’ buddy: cilantro.
As a quintessential love-it or hate-it herb, cilantro is the aggressive politician of the herb world. Although it provides an attractive garnish to dishes to strengthen their appeal, it is not a pushover, like parsley, and demands to deliver a strong message to taste buds, while, for some people, standing on its soapbox. As I’ve discussed before, taste buds could be genetically disposed to receiving this message, as the flavor, especially to some of a European background, can range from soap to hand lotion to metal. However, I’m a Polish dude that is a moderate in cilantro-based taste bud politics, and I am a supporter when it is in the right balance. Thus, cilantro and I are buddies as far as I’m concerned, although-as regular readers of this column know-this herb has been stalking me at restaurants after I said that it tasted like feet.
I also tried the $6 cheese dip con chorizo, which was a mixture of bubbling melted Mexican yellow cheese and chorizo sausage crumbles. The chorizo “juice” floated along the top in small puddles, and after swirling that around with a fresh, crispy tortilla chip and scooping out a hearty glop, the chorizo added a savory, peppery punch to the creamy molten cheese. This dip may make your cardiologist frown, but it is sure to make you smile. It didn’t take very long to widen my smile further with the main course, either, as it arrived about 10 minutes after this appetizer dip.
Because of the name of the restaurant, I already knew the $12.95 chile relleno would be their signature dish. It is one of my favorite traditional Mexican dishes, so I was interested to see how Poblanos was going to present this queso-stuffed poblano pepper housed in fried corn batter. The stringy, melted white queso curds had a strong, sharp flavor as they oozed from the poblano and breading. Although the poblano is a mild chile, the dish did have a bit of a kick and was covered in a sweetly spicy red chile sauce with a cameo cilantro appearance. Both the rice and refried beans side dishes were nicely seasoned, as they are often bland in many Mexican restaurants. It was an enjoyable version of an old favorite of mine.
However, my favorite dish this evening was the $14.95 mole. No, not the subterranean, lawn-terrorizing, dirt-digging mammal (that wouldn’t be very appetizing); this is a traditional Mexican sauce (pronounced “mole-lay”), and once I saw this plate, I was ready to dig in. This dark brown sauce, smothered on shredded chicken breast and veggies, was stated on the menu to be “indescribable,” and that, my friends, sounded like a challenge.
Alright, so here goes nothing: The mole had a tinge of chocolate sweetness, and a light, coffee-like bitterness, slightly tempering the fiery chile capsaicin‘s sharp edge. I’m pretty sure I tasted some coriander (the seed that sprouts my buddy cilantro) and cumin, but I am unsure about the spice blend-well played, Poblanos, well played indeed. The moist, chicken breast shreds and chopped squash, zucchini and chayote were heavily coated in this rich, black gold, while still remaining firm and not becoming slimy. Warm, soft tortillas were served on the side to wrap up this darkly dramatic mixture.
The two side items chosen for this dish were the grilled vegetables and side salad. The grilled veggies were the same three used in the mole and were cooked and seasoned well on their own. The side salad had a French-style dressing coating a fresh mix of chopped lettuce and radishes, diced tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots.
The $10.95 “chilequiles,” a traditional Mexican breakfast dish, were made from the same freshly fried tortillas as the appetizers, sautéed with chorizo sausage, egg and queso in a red enchilada sauce, then sprinkled with queso Cotija. This was an interestingly appetizing conglomeration, as the egg and chorizo mixture melded well with the enchilada sauce, and the tortilla chips were softened up with the sauté, but still had enough firmness to eat without utensils. This was on their “quick stuff” part of the menu, and it would be a good dish to grab if you are in a hurry yet still a good choice if your party is picking entrées from the menu that take longer to prepare.
There were four desserts listed on the menu but only two available this evening, so I chose the $4.50 flan. This was a good flan of creamy custard covered in caramelized sugar and cinnamon, and it capped the meal off nicely.
I am giving Poblanos Mexican Bar and Grill 3 stars for a mom-and-pop restaurant using quality ingredients in dishes done with traditional Mexican family recipes, which are presented with friendly, prompt service. You will find dishes done differently than other Mexican restaurants around the area, with recipes that have been passed down through generations, so check it out if you are a looking for something different in Chattanooga’s plethora of Mexican food offerings. And the prime spot close to Coolidge Park with a large outdoor patio area and massive bar selection doesn’t hurt, either.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.