Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Hola El Caporal

Last week Phriendly Jaime from West of Shockoe asked me about a good Mexican place north of the James. To my chagrin, I could not really come up with a wonderful answer (south of the river is an entirely different matter). I realized that I had frequented the usual suspects (with little fanfare), but had not ventured to some of the other establishments. I have started to remedy this situation with a trip to El Caporal…

As we walked up to the entrance of El Caporal the ghost of Long John Silver’s greeted us in the form of an iron door handle shaped like a sword. But as we entered to a hearty “Hola” from the host, the old pirate beat a path back to the shipwrecks of forgotten fast food places. As we sat down in a booth, we observed that the joint was hopping. Our wait staff, bearing fresh yellow tortilla chips, also welcomed us with “Holas” and “Como esta?” When my husband belatedly drug up “Muy bien” from his vaguely-remembered Spanish high school class, we all erupted with laughter. The staff really made the difference on this night since across from us dined a large family with loud and active small children. As a bonus Tuesday night was $1.99 Margarita night (lime only). If you want to go on a Thursday, you can also take advantage of this special. The Margaritas tasted a bit on the sweet side with no real tequila kick. Of course, they were only $1.99 (less than a soft drink in a lot of places) and served in a milkshake glass. The chips came with a tomato-based salsa and a white sauce. I liked the salsa, mildly hot. The white sauce was too sweet and mild for me. The chips were slightly salty and not overly heavy. And we scarfed those suckers down! Our waiter was attentive and nice enough to bring us more. El Caporal’s menu held many choices from steak and chicken entrees to burritos and enchiladas to a large offering of vegetarian dishes. In the end the Chile Verde ($8.45) called to me. Cooked pork with tomatillo sauce served with rice, beans, and tortillas. The dish was simple, yet very tasty, with the pork cooked to tenderness and the beans containing an abundance of seasoned flavor. My husband ordered the Burritos Mixtos ($7.75). Two burritos filled with chicken, carrots, green beans, and corn covered with cheese dip, served with rice or beans. Basically this dish turned out to be a burrito stuffed with chicken and a can of mixed vegetables. The kitchen did add some sautéed onions to the mix. Although strange, my hubby really liked the dish. It reminded him of his mom’s home cooking, but with a decidedly South of the Border twist. The waiter neglected to ask if my husband wanted rice or beans, so rice was apparently the default side. Not a big deal since the rice was very good. But the “cheese dip” put this burrito over the top. At times I cringe when I hear cheese dip – is it the white melting queso or the velveeta-like nacho cheese? In this case it was the white queso. The melted pools of gooiness were “muy bueno.” And all of the burrito entrees on the menu proclaimed “covered in cheese dip.” We had enough food to pack up for lunches the following day. We will definitely return to try other dishes such as: Pollo Chipotle, Enchiladas Poblanos, Tacos Machos, Chori-Dip, and Choco Chimichanga. As we paid and headed out the door our host sent us into the night with a cheerful “Buenas noches!” A good night, indeed.

El Caporal
Mexican Family Restaurant
1417 East Ridge Rd.


Phriendly Jaime said...

Well, my next night out is planned. Thanks! :)

Sads said...

I know this place all too well, and I do keep coming back. Elias, the owner, is one of the friendlist people you will ever meet, and I love seeing him work side by side with his family.

As for food, my staples are:
1- Churri Dip- melted cheese mixed with chorizo.

2- Enchiladas Nortenas- Cheese enchilads with a hefty cinnamon sauce topped with pork, onions and peppers.

3- Carnitas- Marinated in beer and OJ, this pork is then fried and tastes like heaven.

Also, they have a tasty salsa verde and salsa macho. All you have to do is just ask for them.

Tripp Fenderson said...

El Caporal is a true family affair and Elias and Soyla have been a part of our family since they opened (my dad actually helped them with the business in the early days).

Their daughters, Melissa and Eliana, are usually working as well. Both are extremely helpful, friendly and hard working. Watch out for Eliana though -- she's a troublemaker. :)

If you want to have some real fun, get to know them, stay late and get the tequila flowing at your table a little while before closing time. You never know when Jesse will pull out his guitar or who will start the dancing.

The place gets insanely busy on some nights and as a result, like any family place, the service can sometimes be a little less attentive but that shouldn't stop you from going back.

Kid friendly, family friendly, stranger friendly. El Caporal is just a good place to be.