Review: Si Senor - Chandler, AZ (w/ photos!)
I don’t get to Chandler that much.
It isn’t that I have anything against this East Valley city. Well, okay, there is/was an ex that lives/lived there, but that was long ago and I am no longer bitter about it. Outraged? Angry? Hostile? Sure. But not bitter. I have grown.
However, on a recent Saturday night, I found myself deep in the bowels of Chandler trying to find a clever little shop for some shopping. By the time I got there, though, it had closed and I sulked off into the dark air. I wasn’t bitter.
But I was hungry and I was wondering where I should go when I checked my email through my phone and saw a recommendation for a Mexican restaurant in Chandler called Si Senor. I made a quick call and discovered its location on Alma School Road. I zipped over there, leaving any trace of bitterness behind me and looking forward to some comfort food.
The restaurant was in a stand-alone building fronting a large strip mall. I pulled in and parked and walked in. I was taken aback by the size of the place with its airy feel and brightness. I was immediately seated in one of the dining rooms and given a menu. I was only there about two minutes before my server arrived taking my drink order. I went for a Diet Coke ($2.00) and a glass of water.
My waiter returned in a few minutes sporting my beverage and a very large basket containing tortilla chips, a red salsa, a Hatch green chile salsa, and a sour cream sauce. I was pleasantly surprised by the presentation, both in style and substance. The basket was large enough to hold a mass of chips so the poor servers would not have to make the dreaded “chip walk.” (That’s when a Mexican restaurant serves the chips in a small plastic bowl and the server has to make about four dozen trips to the chip bin for refills.) The chips were slightly warm, very crunchy and not greasy. I thought they were very good. The red salsa was decent. It could have used a bit more garlic and the veggies were pureed more than I would have liked, but the taste was good. The Hatch green chile salsa was a knock out. I just loved it and shunned the red stuff for the powerhouse. It was full of roasted Hatch chile flavor and was served warm. While I normally love my salsas cold, this really was outstanding. What even made it better was the inclusion of a small bowl of a sour cream sauce. This allowed me to munch Hatch green chiles to my heart’s content and then extinguish the fire with the diary. The chips were a grand slam for me.
My server was clearly under a lot of pressure covering a great number of tables, so he excused himself, saying he would return shortly to take my order. I waited about five minutes, which gave me ample time to review the menu. Upon his return, I chose the Si Senor Combination Platter ($9.95), which included a rolled cheese enchilada, a tamale, a chile relleno, a taco, and a red chile stew. I also decided to start with a Green Chile Quesadilla ($5.75). My waiter disappeared and I kept a menu to read. I noticed that Si Senor was trying to be a Mexican and New Mexican place because you get just about anything Sonoran or New Mexican style.
My Chile Quesadilla arrived in about 10 minutes and the treat was hugh. It was two quesadillas stacked on tope of each other, and clearly was meant to serve four people. It came with a side of sour cream and guacamole. Since I couldn’t have the latter, I set that aside. I picked up my first wedge of the cheesy tortilla dish and took a bite. It was hot, crisp and cheesy. I liked it, but was quite overwhelmed with how much diced green chile was stuffed into the tortilla. It was far too much and the green chile taste overwhelmed everything else. I ended us scrapping off 75% of the chiles which save the quesadilla from being a wash.
My server approached me to check on my well-being, but informed me that there would be a delay in my meal. Apparently, it was rather slow at Si Senor at 7 PM, so they sent some of the waitstaff home. But at 8:30 PM (slightly before my arrival), the place had filled up and they were short of staff. He apologized profusely and I was more than happy to forgive him because I hadn’t noticed a problem at all. He was clearly bustling all around covering a variety of tables and keeping my glasses full.
Another 10 minutes passed and my entree arrived. I had a minor flashback when I saw the plate because it was one of those large rectangular plates with the metal insert that they heat up to keep your food warm. All I could remember was seeing those as a kid at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet. For those of you who have ever “raised the flag” at Pancho’s, you know what I mean. I keep my fingers crossed that it was better - much, much better - than Pancho’s. Otherwise, I would be very disappointed. Not bitter, but disappointed.
I dove into the taco. It was pretty direct. A simple corn tortilla fried up and stuffed with ground beef, lettuce, cheese and tomatoes was resting on its side near the edge of the plate. Eh, it was okay, but the meat suffered from a severe lack of seasoning, so it came across as bland. I also didn’t understand the infatuation with the tomatoes in it because so many only made this taco rather acidic. The beans, on the other hand, were quite good. I could taste the lard and the beans actually had some body to them.
I attacked the cheese enchilada. It was great. Hot, cheesy, and the sauce was nice and simple, but with a kick at the end that mixed well with the tortilla and cheese. Next up was the chile relleno. It wasn’t going to win an award, but it was tasty and I liked the fact that they didn’t use a whipped egg batter that would have made this a sponge.
The tamale was a complete disappointment. Unfortunately, it had been sitting far too long or the steamtable wasn’t working right and the masa was as dry as the Sonoran desert. The meat was also a dust bowl and virtually flavorless. I pushed that aside after two bites. Then I took a taste of the red chile stew and the disappointment of the tamale was gone. This was fantastic. The beef cubes were tender and moist. The red chile sauce was complex and smokey with a fair amount of spice. I was using the chips to scoop up the remained of the stew because I wasn’t going to pass this up.
My server returned with a fresh Diet Coke and asked me if I wanted dessert. I declined because the portion size of both the quesadilla and the combination platter was quite large. Since I wasn’t going straight home, I declined the remainder of my food being boxed up. My server said he would be back with the bill.
Upon his return, I was presented with the bill and a basket containing two sopapillas. It didn’t take much arm twisting to get me to plunge right into them. I slathered them with honey from the squeeze bottle on the table and loved every bite. They were piping hot, fresh, doughy and lightly sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. They were excellent all the way around, but the honey should have been in a bear-shaped squeezy bottle. (I do have standards.)
The bill total was $19.30 including tax, which I thought was a bargain. Considering the amount of food I got and could have taken home, it was a fair deal. The service was great. My poor server ran himself ragged and I made a note of speaking with the manager before I left about how well he was doing considering the circumstances.
I walked to the car and started the engine, looking at the people who were heading in. I was still a bit surprised at how busy the place was even at 9 PM on a Saturday because Chandler never struck me as a happening place in the evenings. Regarding the food, I had an overall positive experience and would return. The tamale and taco need work, and they need a lighter hand with some of the fillings, but I still found many more positives than negatives.
During the trek toward I-10 and then home, I thought about taking J. or Madge here for lunch and then found myself in familar surroundings. I then saw the apartment complex where my ex use to live. My hands clinched around the steering wheel and I started hyperventilating. All sorts of borderline psychotic thoughts were running through my mind.
But I wasn’t bitter.
600 North Alma School Road
Chandler, AZ 85224
Hours: Sunday through Thursday - 10:30 AM to 9 PM; Friday and Saturday - 10:30 AM to 10 PM.
Notes: There is a sister location in Las Cruses, NM.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com