Los Potrillos

We live in an era of fancy craft beers and fancier appetizers, but sometimes it’s hard to beat the simple meal-starting combo you can get at Los Potrillos: guacamole, totopos (chips), and a couple of mass-market Mexican beers served in big, frosty mugs. Brews like these taste great when they’re very cold, and the guac at Los Potrillos is comparably refreshing: a generous blend of avocado, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño, and cilantro that comes in a molcajete bowl. No doubt, I’ll be back to have it again a couple of times this summer.

Los Potrillos sits on a trafficky stretch of Cerrillos Road, between a used car lot and a pizza place. The exterior of the building is somewhat drab — it’s a converted Pizza Hut — but the inside has more character, and on a busy recent Friday night, the atmosphere was lively, friendly, and bright. The decor is somewhat equine-centric (potrillo is the Spanish word for “colt” or “foal”): There’s a large portrait of paint horses by the entrance, and the walls are hung with various artifacts, including a sombrero, chaps, and a wagon wheel. The smallish space holds roughly 16 tables and booths, and there are two high-mounted flat-screen TVs that are usually showing sports, but this didn’t interfere with our ability to have a conversation.

After polishing off the guacamole, we ordered three entrees from Los Potrillos’ huge menu, which contains more than 100 items, including exotic offerings like smoked goat and fish fillet smothered in mango cream sauce. One person in our group tried, and liked, the chiles en nogada, a famous dish from the Mexican state of Puebla that consists of poblano chiles stuffed with ground beef, pecans, and raisins and covered with a “special sauce” that isn’t identified on the menu but is traditionally a blend of crushed walnuts and dairy. Chiles en nogada usually have a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds on top, so that all three colors of the Mexican flag — red, green, and white — are represented. Los Potrillos skips the seeds. Not a major loss, I suppose, but I wondered why they left out this signature touch.

I was excited to see that the restaurant makes gorditas, small fried cornmeal cakes that are used to sandwich various savory fillings. We tried the rajas con queso (poblano strips with melted cheese) and the shredded beef. The beef version was better and spicier than the vegetarian, which was on the bland side. I also sampled the chicken mole enchiladas, which were good: cheese and shredded roast chicken on the inside, a dark, not-very-spicy mole on top.

During a second visit, I asked about what the menu lists as one of the Chef’s Specialties, cabrito, smoked goat meat served with a peanut and almond sauce. It wasn’t available, so I ordered a carne asada tostada instead, which turned out to be an unremarkable version of this popular item. The carne was tough, and the tostada’s hard-tortilla base was so thick that it was difficult to crack with a fork. My friends had better luck: One enjoyed an ample order of four fish tacos with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, white rice, potato wedges, and a blob of guacamole. Another tried the camarones tequila — shrimp grilled with bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, and a splash of booze. The shrimp were good, and the dish was served with a flaming flourish: The waiter lit the pooled tequila just before bringing it to the table.

We tried a few desserts: tres leches cake and cheesecake. Both were about average — the tres leches, for example, was loaded with what seemed to be commercial-grade whipped cream. For me, these desserts typified the overall Los Potrillos experience: pretty good, not great. I went back one morning to try the breakfast menu, and my order — huevos rancheros — wasn’t just average, it was poor. The dish arrived lukewarm about a minute after I placed the order, and it consisted of a corn tortilla, two fried eggs, melted cheese, and a thin, watery, tomato-based “ranchero” sauce in place of red chile. I’ll return to Los Potrillos, but it won’t be early in the day. ◀