Los Rios, in Richmond’s West End, is under new management, and at first glance, appears no different from any other Mexican restaurant in town. The dining room is modestly decorated with a few sprouting green plants and paintings of rustic villages. You are quickly seated, while water, chips and salsa arrive. However, there are no fluorescent lime margaritas (no mixed beverage license), but you can still order an icy Corona ($3.25) to accompany your meal.
The menu reveals the usual suspects with a few more intriguing dishes thrown in, such as a special la casa with sliced beef, chicken and cactus ($8.95), and ceviche, or fish marinated in lime juice, jalapenos and cilantro ($6.95). Otherwise, the menu resembles similar restaurants in town with fajitas, enchiladas and an array of combination platters from $5.50 to $6.50 a plate.
All of this said, I could stop right here. But there has to be a determining factor that differentiates one Mexican restaurant from the other. Ambience, menu and service can be similar. So we’re left with other deciding factors such as taste and consistency. It’s as if all of these establishments are crouched down at the starting line with foldout menus in hand.
Los Rios seemed to make a false start. No disqualification yet, and a do-over produced better results. For example, on our first visit, the chile con queso appetizer ($3.25) scored high marks with its salty, melted queso fresco, but faltered with a lifeless mound of undercooked ground beef spooned on top. Sautéed ground beef devoid of taste cannot be masked, even with heaping spoonfuls of salt (which we tried). We even saw this mixture reappear over corn tortillas (chilaquiles) and wrapped in deep-fried tortillas (taquitos).
The guacamole and refried beans suffered the same fate. Little flavor. Even heavy salting and numerous shakes of the hot sauce bottle did nothing to help. The refried beans appeared a gray mass, while missing that wonderful salted ham-bone flavor that is usually characterizes this ever-present side dish. However, the camarones ala diabla ($9.75) or “devil’s shrimp” was loaded with flavor. It was also loaded with mounds of cayenne pepper, which made the dish one-dimensional.
The do-over prevails. Tacos adobados ($7.95) redeemed its predecessors with three soft tortillas filled with cubed steak in a tangy, pungent barbecue sauce served with an above-average pico de gallo. This time, the refried beans were better than average. Pollo fundido ($9.25) with its marinated, grilled chicken breast paired beautifully with ground chorizo sausage and warm sopapillas (fried flour tortillas with honey butter, cinnamon and cool vanilla ice cream) were a delectable bargain at $2.95.
All problems aside, the great thing about this Mexican food marathon is that it can still be won. Maybe if the kitchen spent a little less time racing to get the food out and tasted a few items before plating, many issues could be resolved. And having tequila around would make the victory lap more fun. S
Kendra Bailey Morris teaches cooking classes for Sur La Table Cooking School and works as a freelance chef. She visits each restaurant twice and each visit is unannounced and paid for by Style.
Los Rios ($) 2601 Tuckernuck Drive 762-9883 Lunch and dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday noon-9 p.m.
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