• Why: Craving authentic Old Mexico cuisine? El Valle Mexican Grill has an extensive menu with unusual entrees in addition to the familiar combinations with rice and beans. Located in the Safeway center just south of Fourth Plain Boulevard off 162nd Avenue, El Valle has made a name for itself in the surrounding neighborhoods as a go-to place to dine in or take out delicious Mexican fare.
• Atmosphere: The restaurant is infused with a touch of Southwest amid the south-of-the-border vibe. A wall with a rough-texture finish stained in a light adobe color separates the restaurant into two main sections. Open arches in the wall display pottery and live plants. Paintings decorate the walls. Seating consists of tables and chairs and sturdy wood booths with designs burned into the top edge.
• What I tried: I decided on the Tacos al Carbon made with chicken. My dining companions tried the Enchiladas, Tacos, and Tostadas with ground beef as well as the Enchiladas Poblanas, made with a sweet and spicy Mexican sauce and cheese.
Chips and salsa were served after we were seated. The chips were thin, yellow-corn tortilla chips with a baked sort of quality instead of oil-fried. In fact, if a tortilla chip could be said to be dry, El Valle's would be the example. The impressive house-made salsa had a roasted characteristic that lingered and a spicy heat that and complemented the flavor without interfering.
I found the Tacos al Carbon a flavorful, satisfying dish, full of the "al carbon" grilled essence for which it is named. The chicken was tender and moist and the tacos were smothered in a rich brown sauce and topped with diced tomato, white onion and cilantro. The combination of flavors was a pleasant departure from a common Mexican food encounter.
My dining companions were all satisfied with their selections and agreed that the rice was a mild version of Mexican rice.
At the end of our meal, we were served a version of sopapillas drizzled with honey and topped with whipped cream and cherries, for a sweet finish with minimal calories.
• Menu highlights beyond what I tried: If you like Mexican seafood cuisine, you may want to try the popular Chimichanga Costera, filled with shrimp, scallops, vegetables and cheese sauce, and garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, guacamole and sour cream.
The Enchiladas a la Crema includes two enchiladas filled with your choice of shredded or ground beef or chicken and covered with cream sauce and melted cheese.
I was thrilled to see the hard-to-find Changa Cheesecake on the menu. This dessert is a cheesecake-filled, deep-fried flour tortilla topped with chocolate and caramel syrup, whipped cream and cherries. Unfortunately, this was not available on my visit.
• Other observations: The food met our expectations and the service exceeded them.
My dining companions and I appreciated that El Valle serves meals on heated dinnerware to keep the food hot and appetizing throughout the meal.
• Cost: Appetizers are $5.95 to $11.50. Soups cost $6.50 and $6.95. Weekday lunch specials are all served with beans and rice for $6.95. All combinations are served with beans and rice with either one main item for $7.50, two for $8.95, or three for $10.25. Chicken entrees are $11.95, seafood entrees range from $10.50 to $13.95, and steak entrees are $11.95 and $13.95. Fajitas, Burritos, Enchiladas, and Tostadas start at $7.50 and top out at $15.50. Desserts are all $3.50. There are a few North American dishes as well, such as Burgers and Chicken Strips, for $4.50 to $5.95.
• Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
• Telephone: 360-891-6868.
• Where: 6700 N.E. 162nd Ave., Suite 713, Vancouver.
• Health score: El Valle Mexican Grill received a score of 0 on May 30. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428