I'm impressed when a restaurant has such a following that many customers are greeted by name. Such is the case at La Unica.
Everyone, obvious newbies and longtime regulars, was warmly met by the owner. She knew more than names. She asked about family members and when taking orders asked many if they were having their "usuals."
I've been to La Unica before, but not often enough. My recent visit reminds me that I need to return more frequently. Not just for the element of familiarity, but for the authentic Mexican cuisine.
The vibrant décor is busy and colorful. There's no mistake what type of food is served at this west side restaurant. The Mariachi music provides the exclamation point - except when Louis Armstrong tunes are interspersed as reminders that we weren't really south of the border.
A handful of specials are listed on a board standing at the entrance. Friends who often patronize La Unica said these don't change much. Filet of sole a la jardinera ($17.95) and the Relleno Special ($13.95) are among the specials we tried.
The beautifully-plated sole is topped with a cucumber dill sauce. The herb, which I find to be refreshing, is the dominant flavor and pairs nicely with the fork-tender fish. It's served with rice and a small salad. This entree was satisfying without the feeling of having over-eaten.
I often order chile rellenos and am often disappointed because either the batter coating the stuffed chili is too eggy, too greasy or both; none was the case at La Unica. The large poblano had a delicate egg overlay that didn't mask its flavor or that of the gooey cheese inside. It also didn't get soggy halfway through my meal, which has been another complaint.
This was a particularly substantial plate of food. In addition to the relleno are rice, beans and a choice of a chicken or cheese enchilada. I opted for the former which was packed full of shredded chicken.
Chicken mole ($15.95) is another item I enjoy; it's what I've had at La Unica in the past and is as good as I remember.
Cubed pieces of chicken breast are bathed in the sweet/savory sauce. Mole is a generic name for the sauce comprised of different spices and herbs. It can be different colors and flavors based on the ingredients used. La Unica's version is rich and has a dark chocolate color. It has a subtle heat element that doesn't overwhelm. Served with rice, beans and a choice of corn or flour tortillas this is also a big plateful.
In some ways, the mole is better the next day; it only lacks the restaurant's ambiance.
The spinach and cheese enchiladas ($10.95)were tasty, thanks to the tangy taste of the Popeye veggie, the rolled corn tortillas and the not-at-all-spicy green sauce. However, this was, perhaps, my least favorite dish if only because the other food on the table was so stellar.
I was surprised by the amount of time it took to place our order. Our friends explained that the staff waits until a lull in conversation so as not to interrupt. This is a nice touch now that I know we weren't being ignored. The drink and food orders did arrive without delay.
Prior to opening La Unica on West Colorado Avenue in 1997, the owners have operated Taqueria La Unica on East Platte Avenue since 1990.