Don’t let the tiny, unassuming sign advertising El Palenque Mexican Grill’s existence fool you – inside awaits an extensive menu, generous portions and robust flavors.
The family-owned restaurant has been preparing homemade recipes since 2007. The menu features dozens of Mexican classics, including tacos, fajitas, burritos, tostados, enchiladas and quesadillas.
After a five-minute wait, my fiancé, Patrick, and I were seated in the large dining area, which is decorated with colorful vases and sombreros lining the walls. Patrons ranged from the happy hour crowd sipping jumbo margaritas to families enjoying a night out. Complimentary baskets of yellow corn tortilla chips and bowls of semi-spicy salsa were quick to be replenished as diners awaited their meals.
I have always loved the word “chimichanga,” so this is what I usually order when eating Mexican cuisine because it’s so fun to say and so tasty. While both fried and non-fried options were available, I opted for the less-healthy fried version because I love the crunch. I combed through the menu for my favorite type – pollo (chicken) – but no such delight was specified. The waiter was most accommodating, however, and assured me that the chef could substitute the beef.
The meal came with two chimichangas ($8.50) stuffed with chicken and topped with lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole with a side of refried beans. The blend of flavors and spices was well-balanced, with no one ingredient or flavor overtaking another.
Patrick started with the stuffed jalapenos ($4.50), which contained a cheese mixture that mellowed out the spiciness of the pepper. The eight plump, breaded rounds were served with salsa for dipping.
“They aren’t burn-your-mouth-off hot,” he said between bites.
For his entrée, Patrick went with the enchiladas supreme ($8.50), four flour tortillas each holding a different filling – beef, chicken, bean and cheese – and all topped with lettuce, cheese, tomato and sour cream. It is a great choice for the diner who wants it all and isn’t willing to settle.
Several salads ($7 to $7.50) also are available, including grilled and Santa Fe chicken and the “Taco Loco,” which features grilled chicken and other taco fixings in a crispy shell.
The portions are satisfying but not so huge that you feel like you’re going to explode. This allows you to save room for dessert, which ranges from $3 to $4.50. We tried the “churroz” ($3.75), deep-fried dough stuffed with cheesecake and covered with cinnamon and chocolate sauce. With the smoothness of the cheesecake, the crunch of the outer shell and the squishiness of the warm chocolate soaking into the dough, the sweet treat was a wonderful medley of textures and flavor.
El Palenque Mexican Grill offers an authentic Mexican experience at a friendly price. The restaurant gets busy around dinnertime, but it was definitely worth the wait. And once served, don’t be afraid to put down the fork and dig in because, as stated on the restaurant’s website, “It is ABSOLUTELY correct to eat tacos, tostados and tortillas with your fingers.”
Where: 951 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst (446-9206)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday; noon to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Lunch-only menu is available from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Wheelchair accessible: Yes, but the restrooms are somewhat tight.
Extras: Beer, wine and margaritas.