I finally did it. I finally went to a Mexican food restaurant in Iowa City.
It is, frankly, quite amazing that I managed to hold off this long. My father was here with me for three days, and this is the man who raised me on Tex-Mex at least once a week, and, truly, often twice (though usually we did not inform my mother of the fact). I have been hesitant because, well, it's Iowa City. When I first went to the grocery store, the cashier at Hy-Vee did not recognize a poblano pepper that I was buying, and when I told her what it was she asked me what it was for. In addition, when I visited the university in April, every single person (students and professors alike) that I spoke to told me not to bother with the Mexican food here. Chipotle, they insisted, was the best that Iowa City has offer a gal from Texas.
But this evening I had a conundrum. The pizza dough I was making did not rise, so my butternut squash and rosemary pizza was out of the question. The corn tortillas in the refrigerator had not thawed, so I could not pursue the asparagus taquitos, either. I haven't been to the co-op to purchase fresh shrimp yet, so I could not make the shrimp scampi or almond-crusted shrimp salad with lime dressing. (Note: when I do finally make these things later this week, you will be sure to read about the attempts, possibly complete with photos and recipes). And I was getting hungry.
In my failure to be a decent chef, I sought comfort. And if you know me, you know that my comfort food is Tex-Mex.
I decided upon Carlos O'Kelly's Mexican Cafe because it is very close to my house, and I have noticed on my trips to the grocery store that it often has a pretty good crowd. I ordered the "Enchiladas de Poblano" because I am on a poblano kick. The chips and salsa that came before the meal were extremely disappointing. The tortilla chips tasted like Tostitos straight out of the bag, and the salsa was very tomato-y. It needed cilantro, desperately.
My enchiladas were not bad. The chicken filling was nice and spiced, and moist. If the tortillas were not good, I did not notice. The sauce was different. I expected a sour cream sauce, with poblano peppers throughout. Instead, I got a very poblano-pepper-y sauce that might have had some sour cream for consistency, but you couldn't taste it. They came with a lime on top, but I couldn't get any juice out of it, which was a shame because I think it would have added a lot to the enchiladas.
The beans and rice were no good. I could not eat the rice, which was dry and spiced with all the wrong spices. The beans were sub-par, but only with the addition of the poor salsa.
For 10.00 plus tip, I would say I was disappointed. My meal was worth about 7.50 to me. But hey, at least I know that Mexican food in Iowa City might be edible. I feel up to the task of further exploring the other Mexican establishments, at any rate.