Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hola! Fun Playing with Fresh Mexican Grille

My birthday is only a few days away, which meant I needed to renew my drivers license this week. This would necessitate a trip east, down the de-constructed mess that is Mayfield Road. Since traffic seemed so light this week, I decided to do it after lunch today.

I decided to try the relatively new Hola Fresh Mexican Grille at 6232 Mayfield Road, about a quarter mile west of Golden Gate Plaza. I got there just in time at about 1:36pm; the sign on the door indicated that service ends at 2pm during the week for the duration of the construction. That means that these folks are really depending on lunch business to survive, though they are open later on the weekend.

I pondered the wall menu, which resembled the chain Chipotle. The diner chooses a carb/delivery system: wrap/burrito, hard or soft taco, salad, nachos, quesadilla; Beans: Black, Pinto, Refried; Meat:Ground Beef, Grilled Chicken, Steak, Pork Carnitas, Barbacoa Beef; Dairy: Shredded Cheese, Sour Cream, Guacamole, Cheese Sauce; Veggies: Lettuces, Cilantro, Fresh Jalapeno, Grilled Onions & Peppers; and finally Salsa: Hot, Medium, Corn and Pico Degallo. The menu also offers 4 kinds of salads, assorted soft drinks, beer and dessert chimichangas. Mains average $6 each - a very reasonable price.

The open kitchen was spotless, and real meat was grilling on a real stove. I decided to try three soft shell tacos for $6 (a serving of 2 tacos is available for $2.25 - probably the best lunch bargain in town).

My first surprise was the taco shell - I was expecting a small flour tortilla warmed in the tortilla press. But the shells were pre-fried and puffed up. The taste and texture were yummy, but they didn't hold up well to the liquids.

I mixed up the stuffings and salsas: ground beef with hot salsa verde (green), carnitas (pork) with mild tomato, chicken with medium tomato. Topped it all with lettuce, a little shredded cheese and beautifully fresh jalapenos.

I paid the countergirl and headed for the dining room. Although kind of hard and loud (and unfortunately empty, except for a little girl who ran into the back to tell her mother about the weird lady taking pictures of her food), the posters adorning the walls are fun and the decor is funky. And the best was yet to come!

After setting down my tray, I realized that I didn't have to get my salsa at the serving line, because there was a fresh supply of two of them (with appropriately sized serving cups) set out next to the implements:

I think the taco shells would have stood up a lot better had I added salsa at the table. Oh well, now I know!

But even better than the secondary salsa supply - Hola has a hot sauce lover's dream!

I went for the squeeze bottle that said "Hot." There are also Medium and Mild and all three are house-made. It was zippily delicious.

My plate of three tacos

Carnitas (Pork) Taco

Tender, moist and toothsome, if a little messy.

Seasoned Ground Beef w/Hot Salsa

This was wonderful. The meat was nicely seasoned, and took a beautiful kick of heat from the salsa.

Grilled Chicken Taco

Again, the plump morsels of meat tasted fresh and were not over-seasoned. The "Hot" hot sauce accompanied the chicken to perfection.

My favorite aspect of this lunch was that none of the three meats were over-salted. If anything, they were a touch under-seasoned (except the ground beef), which made them perfect foils for the house made salsas and hot sauces, and the other hot sauces. This lunch was well worth the stained shirt. Facing the License Bureau would be so much less stressful now!

As I was photographing the hot sauces, I struck up a conversation with the owners, who were having their own lunch as service ended. They were sampling a new concept that they hope to add to their menu - a made-from-scratch hamburger that the counterperson takes down the toppings line, just like any other menu item, and adds whatever toppings the diner wants. The burgers looked and smelled great!

They asked my opinion of the dessert (one of the few items they do not make from scratch):

Raspberry-Cheese Chimichanga

It was a very tasty way to end this meal.

I, for one, would much rather patronize a locally owned business than a chain. The local tacqueria Que Tal was driven out of business after Chipotle opened at Eastgate several years ago; it would be a shame for Hola to meet the same fate. Yes, there is a lot of traffic on Mayfield Road right now - but this tasty, fresh, inexpensive gem is worth an investment in Googlemaps (to find a route around the traffic - that's how I got back to the office after the license bureau). Hola presents a clean, comfortable space and food that is freshly prepared and cooked for very reasonable prices. Ole!


  1. wow those tacos look amazing, great pictures! next time we are in the neighborhood we will have to check that place out.

    many years ago i used to work in the mayfield area, and i did not understand at the time why anyone would choose chipotle over que tal. que tal was there first after all and had a superior product in my opinion.

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  3. Because of your Blog, I tried this place today. Tacos were fabuous! Hope that Mayfield construction will soon be over and people can more easily get to this place. It is well worth it. :-) Em