Enchiladas and tacos and beans, oh my.
At Señor Manuel's, they're nothing to fear, but neither are they the best renditions of standard Mexican cuisine - notwithstanding the restaurant's nearly 50-year presence in Colorado Springs. Perhaps it's the longevity that keeps the place hopping. A steady flow of families, couples and groups kept the staff busy the night of our visit. Several diners were on a first-name basis with many of the servers. Even though the service was very good, our sampling of menu items gave us no reason to establish relationships.
The friendly hostess, our attentive server and well-made house margaritas bode well for the meal. So we thought. Then came the complimentary chips and salsa. The latter was the consistency of tomato sauce with barely a trace of piquancy. The chips were dry with a flavor we had difficulty identifying until it was suggested they were overcooked. Chips, even ones that aren't altogether satisfactory, are difficult to ignore, which is why we went through nearly three bowls while waiting for our food.
Nothing we ordered was out of the ordinary, so the delay was baffling. Our server kept water glasses filled and replenished the chips, but offered no explanation for the long wait between placing our order and having it arrive steaming hot. Despite being anxious to dig in, we had to let the food cool a bit before taking first bites.
The menu identifies the chili relleno as "award winning." This made it a must-have for me. The hostess boasted about the cheese enchiladas, so the combination $12.95 of the two was a no-brainer. The problem was the amount of cheese on the plate. Each forkful included thin, gooey strings of melted cheddar that later, once cooled, became globs. Less cheese would have been better. The roasted green chili, the highlight of the relleno, was swathed in a thick, bland, spongey egg batter topped with a tomato sauce suggestive of marinara, making it seem more Italian than Mexican. The rice and beans, also obscured with melted cheese, did little to enhance the entrée.
Several taco options are available, ranging from hard shell to pan fried. We opted for the fish specialty tacos ($8.45, plus $3.50 for rice and beans). Pieces of white fish coated with a thick breading reminded us of fish sticks from childhood days. The two soft-shell tacos bulged with the fish, lettuce and diced tomatoes. Pico de gallo, served on the side, helped hide the fishy flavor, and the tartar sauce went untouched. This is a Mexican restaurant, after all.
Shredded beef in the chimichanga ($10.95, plus $3.50 for rice and beans) was flavorful, but the fried flour tortilla quickly lost its hard-shell texture, making it more like the original burrito it once was. The chili verde, described as pork green chili, contained no pieces of pork and lacked spiciness. Chopped lettuce and chopped tomato took up a large part of the plate. The dollop of guacamole was barely detectable.
The chicken flautas ($14.45, including rice and beans) were, perhaps, the most successful entrée. These simple, fried, rolled corn tortillas were crispy and filled with plenty of shredded chicken. They weren't hidden beneath cheese and shredded lettuce, although plenty was on the plate.
The portions are generous, and we could have filled several to-go boxes but chose not to. It's disappointing when service overshadows the food. Señor Manuel's clearly has a following; it just doesn't include me.