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REVIEW: Small menu, big flavor

May 31, 2013 Updated: May 31, 2013 at 11:40 am
photo - Huevos Rancheros at Ramon Q's
Huevos Rancheros at Ramon Q's 

Does Ramon Q's Cantina have the recipe for success?

The restaurant bills itself as "Mexican food with a twist." The twist seems to be a small, well-executed menu that focuses on doing a few things in an outstanding manner rather than trying to be everything to everyone. You won't find bland combo plates hidden under a blanket of melted cheese. You're going to find lots of freshness, lots of flavor and an attention to detail you only find with people passionate about feeding others.

Where does the passion come from in this small, stylish establishment? Elizabeth St. James is in the kitchen, cooking up her family's recipes with imagination and dedication. Michael Giberti is running the front of the house, welcoming people from behind the bar, seating customers and taking and delivering orders. It's a small, family-run operation, and the love of welcoming people and feeding them good food shines through.

The flavor profile at Ramon Q's is bold. Fresh jalape?s are everywhere. The salsa that arrives with a basket of warm chips is spicy, the fresh flavors of tomato and chilis set off with a garnish of chopped onion. The guacamole ($7) is a symphony of simplicity, combining fresh avocados, lime juice, tomatoes, onions, fresh jalape?s and a hint of garlic powder. The Chili Queso Dip ($8) arrives bubbling in its own small cauldron. The key here is balance, because the chilis, tomatoes and onions shine through in a dip just cheesy enough to be decadent.

There's a layer of meat hidden at the bottom of the queso dip. While delicious, we would have appreciated knowing that before our resident vegetarian dipped her chip into it. Especially since she made a point of asking if there were any entr?s suitable for vegetarians. The answer, sadly, is not really. The enchiladas are the best bet, but you have to order them without the refried beans, which are cooked with lard.

The burritos, which I haven't sampled yet, are limited to one filling - beef and bean. But you can order from eight different street tacos ($11), all of which come with two tacos on flour or corn tortillas, accompanied by rice and beans. The fish tacos, featuring flaky chunks of sauteed tilapia, are delicious. Ever had a fish taco where your first bite was just a mouthful of dry cabbage? Not going to happen here. You get just enough cabbage for crunch, plus bright pico de gallo salsa, sour cream and vidalia onion salsas, and a big slice of fresh avocado. It's spicy, with tangy, sweet and hot flavors blending with creamy, crunchy and chewy textures.

The steak tacos are also excellent, with juicy strips of grilled steak. The sauces in this dish are pico, sour cream salsa, roja salsa and guacamole, plus shredded cheddar jack cheese and crisp lettuce for a fresh note.

And the sides are worth paying attention to. No soggy red rice here. The white rice is fresh, fluffy and accented with chopped fresh cilantro. The refried beans are smooth and creamy, topped with a touch of cheese, perfect for cooling your mouth after a bite of the hot stuff. Yes, they're cooked with lard. And you're going to love the earthy flavor.

Monster burgers seem to be the trend right now, and you'll have a difficult time finding a better one than Q's Twisted Burger ($12). You'll also have a difficult time eating it without getting it all over your face, but trust me, you won't care once you taste it. The platform for the burger is a third-pound, hand-formed Angus beef patty. The next level is a generous helping of glorious, smoky beef brisket slathered in a spicy sweet sauce. You get a pile of sauteed jalape?s and onions in there, along with crispy bacon and luscious avocado. The whole thing is capped off with cotija cheese. And if you don't want a burger? You can get the same treatment applied to a hot dog for $9.

If you like Chili Rellenos ($12), this is the place for a fresh take on the classic. The batter covering the chilis is thin and crispy, more reminiscent of a tempura batter than the thick, heavy breading you find at other restaurants. The bold, uncomplicated flavor of roasted chili is complemented by the dairy smoothness of the melted cheese, the whole thing topped with red and green chili sauces that will light up your mouth with fire.

If you are absolutely famished, consider the Huevos Rancheros ($10). This is a day's worth of food in one unassuming plate, and every bite will make you grateful you were wise enough to order this dish. Somewhere at the bottom is a flour tortilla, which is covered with the smooth, peppery green chili sauce. Next is a layer of refried beans, then potatoes. In this case, the potatoes were hand-cut French fries, which added a fun, whimsical look to the finished dish. Slices of crisp bacon are arranged spoke-like on top of the potatoes, then covered with a rich, deep red chili sauce. Top that with two eggs, over easy so the yolk runs into the sauce in golden rivulets. Add a dash more of the red sauce, some shredded cheese and a big garnish of pico de gallo, heavy on the onions and jalapenos. It fills your plate, it fills your stomach, and it sets you up to be at peace with the world. That's just how good it is.

ramon q's cantina

Restaurant character: Small in stature, big in personality and flavor. Even newcomers will feel like family friends. The food makes a big impact with freshness and bold, well-balanced flavors.

Rating total: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Food: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ambiance: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Service: 4 out of 5 stars

Address: 1005 W. Colorado Ave.

Contact: 434-2741,

Hours: 11a.m.-8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays

Entr?s: $9-$12

Alcohol: yes

Credit cards: yes

Vegetarian options: barely

Wi-Fi: yes

what's online

As of May 21:

- 93 percent of 73 voters "liked it" on Urban Spoon

- 4 out of 5 stars based on six reviews on Yelp

- Periodically on Facebook; search "Ramon Q's Cantina"

- No violations were marked during a March inspection by the El Paso County Health Department.

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