Dining Out: Provecho provides Mexican pleasures

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Why: Provecho Mexican Grill offers authentic cuisine in a casual dining setting. The menu has the staples of American Mexican fare: tacos, quesadillas, burritos and tostadas, though many diners come for the off-the-menu specials. Salsa at Provecho is made in-house, and all meals are made to order.

Atmosphere: The restaurant is petite. A cantina, patio and dining room have a somewhat upscale décor that resides between conventional and celebratory of its culture. A festive color palette — subdued clay, orange and yellow tones — is accented with red, black and beige; a thread of more various colors adds interest. Light fixtures are rustic, and no two are alike. Wrought iron dresses the windows and individual votive candles bring a wisp of romance to each table. Other than bar seating, tables and chairs are arranged mostly by twos and up to four.

What I Tried: After we were seated, the waiter recited the specials to us, which made the menu appear too basic to satisfy our appetites. Though my dining companion ordered the Carne Asada Steak Taco from the menu, he added the Chicken and Shrimp Fajita special. I settled on the Soup and Taco special — the soup of the day with a taco and tortilla chips. For dessert, we had the Flan and a slice of the Chocolate-Frosted Banana Cake.

While we awaited our food, we munched on house-made chips and salsa. The chips were identical to my scrumptious homemade chips. The salsa was fresh, just a tad spicy, and juicy enough that the dipper can choose between a light coat of flavor and a scoop of substance.

Our food arrived piping hot, and the portions were reasonable to satisfy a fit appetite without an unnecessary binge.

The soup of the day was lentil and bacon, with the solid ingredients suspended in a mirepoix with a a brothy presence. The lentils were cooked to a tender but firm texture, and their nutty flavor was joined with a slight spicy richness. The bacon was present in every spoonful.

The chicken taco’s bite-sized pieces of chicken were slathered in an authentic saporific blend that expertly balanced the bitter and sweet of Mexican cuisine. Pico de gallo, heavy on onions, topped the two-tortilla soft taco.

My dining companion preferred the fajitas to the taco, noting that the carne asada steak put up some resistance when chewed. Red, green and yellow bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and zucchini were added to the chicken and shrimp of the fajitas. Though fajitas come in many variations, this one was especially influenced by shrimp and mushrooms. The traditional fajita flavor was spot-on and the delicious caramelized onion and pepper presence punctuated the dish with sweetness.

Both the desserts were delicious. I recommend the flan as a traditional way to finish off an intensely flavored meal; Provecho’s silky-smooth flan is as authentic as they come. The cake was dense and moist, with a frosting that reminded me of a Hershey’s chocolate bar.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos with a Tossed Green Salad is a popular Thursday special. From the menu, the Mexican Tabouli Salad, a blend of tabouli, basmati rice, garlic, black beans, tomatoes, parsley and onions served on a bed of lettuce, sounded tasty to me.

Other Observations: The wait staff was friendly.

The restaurant was tidy, welcoming and a nice alternative to the mundane standard of many other Mexican restaurants in Clark County.

Our waiter was very courteous, but a bit slack with drink refills and he forgot our guacamole side order, though he did promptly bring it once reminded.

Costs: At $3.50, tacos are the least expensive menu item and the Grande Nachos Especial, enough for two, tops out the menu at $15. Burritos are $8 – $8.50. Quesadillas are $7.50, except the $5.25 plain cheese variety. Tostadas are $8, other than the $7.50 vegetarian bean tostada. Prices vary on off-menu specials.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Telephone: 360-694-1028

Where: 1801 Main St., Vancouver

Health Score: Provecho Mexican Grill received a score of 5 on June 12. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.