A little while ago, I was frustrated enough with a restaurant to write a somewhat scathing review of the experience. This post is more about the pleasures of a great meal and a good experience than it is about being another review. I never really thought of making a career as a food critic, although it might be fun. I’m just a bit of a foodie that knows how the restaurant business works and enjoys a good dining experience. But, why not share a few experiences now and then? It’s a public service, really. Even if you never get around to visiting one of my favorite places I might talk about, it’s the experience I want to share that counts. My good deed for the day is to remind you to support your local entrepreneurs, skip the overrated flashy joints that specialize in their T-shirts as much as their food, and keep going to somewhere with a little more character. A mere 4.6 miles straight down the road from the place of my last review is La Hacienda. It is situated at the end of a grocery store shopping center and has all the charm I would expect out of a good Mexican joint. I’ve been dining here off and on for years and have never had a bad experience.
Today, I needed the comfort of a good Mexican meal. It’s been a rough few weeks and I just wanted a little guilty pleasure experience after finally having a couple of good days with getting some necessities accomplished. My winter vacation break was no picnic. An old neck injury came back to haunt me and had me sidelined for the whole holiday and then some. My ability to use my right arm is temporarily reduced, but I’m finally strong enough to lift a full margarita glass, so I figured it was time to celebrate with one. Hey, it was just nice to have a day that I didn’t absolutely have to take a pill that would prevent me from indulging in an adult beverage. I’m still pretty uncomfortable, but I’m functional, and that’s a win in my book. Unlike the other place down the road, the margaritas here at La Hacienda are pretty good, and if you’re lucky enough to have the owner of the establishment make it for you, it will knock your socks off. The proprietor/manager of this fine establishment is always cheerful and has a keen mind for customer service. If I ever did have a problem with a plate or a drink at this place, I really don’t recall, because they just do things right, here.
When I arrive at La Hacienda, I’m always greeted right away with a smile and often welcomed in like family. Once I’m seated, extra thin cantina style chips and salsa is seemingly rushed to my table and my drink order is taken. Now, I know my salsa well. I love it mild, medium, or hot, and I’m particularly intrigued when it has a little cilantro or cumin. Oddly enough, I don’t always get the same flavor out of the salsa consistently every time I visit this restaurant. For me, this indicates that they probably make it from scratch. You can likely tell who’s cooking in the kitchen that day by the flavor of the salsa. If you visit often enough, you know just which of your favorite dishes to order by how the salsa tastes. Today, the salsa had a bit of a canned tomato taste to it, and it was very mild to me. However, I think my medications have altered my taste buds, and I don’t think I’m a very good judge about the nuances of tomatoes at the moment. Besides, it’s winter, and tomatoes aren’t exactly in season. If I recall correctly, during one of my first visits to this place, I realized a few Hispanic patrons had more than one variety of salsa on the table. Well, I wanted what they were having, so I asked about it. I was impressed when they brought me an additional two types of salsa. I don’t know if they still have the same salsa offerings, but it might be worth asking if you like it a little spicier. After all, over the years I have noticed that this place very much caters to the locals and their tastes. They pay attention, and you can’t ask for more than that.
The servers are always friendly and attentive. The menu has changed slightly over the years, but their vision has remained the same. They have some amazing choices along with the typical fare you find at most Mexican restaurants. Last time I talked about a restaurant, I paid special attention to my pet peeve, the kid’s menu. Honestly, I don’t go to an ethnic restaurant to eat American food. It just seems a little sacrilegious to order a cheeseburger at a cantina, but hey, to each their own. I would like to encourage my child to diversify his palate a little more and learn to enjoy something different once in a while. Not everyone is inclined to make the effort to expand their child’s palate as I have, so it’s nice that they offer something more recognizable for the kiddies. But honestly, we all should know the kid’s menu is not usually the same made from scratch quality expected out of the main menu items making them quite overpriced. But, just look at the mini taco salad option on this menu. There are choices here that I can support nutritionally (and culturally) speaking.
This time, I offered my son a chance to stray away from his usual children’s menu order and see if there was something a little more satisfying on the menu. I told him that I thought he was very quickly growing out of most kid’s menu options in appetite and personal taste. I asked him to do what I did as a child and look at the appetizer menu. A no frills Quesadilla Mexicana seemed like a yummy option. Personally, I wouldn’t have chosen ground beef as my filling, but it’s an ingredient he has become accustomed to and thought sounded good. When it came to the table, the dish was pretty straight forward with no frills. It wasn’t the deluxe entrée version, so it came as expected. The first thing I noticed was the fresh homemade tortilla followed by the volume of meat contained inside. It looked like a full meal all by itself for a boy, which is exactly what we needed. The beefy quesadilla had great flavor. Of course, being made with ground beef, it was a little on the greasy side, but that’s to be expected. If we were looking for a lower fat option, the shredded beef quesadilla would have been leaner on the fat without sacrificing any flavor. Next time, we’ll probably go for one of the healthier quesadilla options, but today, we just wanted to splurge a little.
I decided on a much healthier entrée for myself. Between my inability to use my kitchen tools and my need for a horrible medicine that affects my appetite, my diet has suffered terribly over the last few weeks. I currently crave everything that’s bad for me. I find myself wanting to graze on junk all day, and it’s difficult to resist. That’s why my choice today was the Tostadas de Ceviche. It’s a long time favorite of mine and a lot better for me in my current condition as I rapidly put on a few pounds from my sheer lack of willpower over food. This happens to be one of my least favorite side effects of steroid pills. They make me feel weird and they’re not exactly the most pleasant of remedies. But, I digress…
This dish is a simple pleasure for me. Now, they asked me for my preference of fish, shrimp, or octopus, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the goodness of all three combined with onion and cilantro. I like to trust the chef or I might miss out on something really tasty. To exclude the octopus or shrimp would be just plain sad. You’ve never had good, tender octopus until you’ve had it ceviche style cured by the acids of citrus fruit. The avocado and extra lime make this dish very satisfying. Ceviche is often served with some sort of hot sauce. I wasn’t about to go with Tabasco since I really don’t care for it. No, for this plate, I prefer the more authentic Cholula sauce. Once again, the tortillas had a handmade appearance, and their crispness held up well under the succulent toppings. I needed a healthier option today that was lower in fat and carbs, and this hit the spot perfectly. Well, almost. For dessert, I finished off my son’s delicious plate and stuffed myself to the maximum before finishing my tasty margarita. I can’t wait to be done with this medicine. I foresee a lot of salad and steamed vegetables in my near future.
So if you ever do come to Myrtle Beach, SC and get a hankering for a good cantina, this is the place to come if you’re on the south end of town. If you haven’t read the original inspiration for my Mexican food experience today, you can find my review post here: Let us review… Nacho Hippo
But there’s no point in going back and reading about a place I wouldn’t recommend when there’s a place like La Hacienda nearby with far better food and atmosphere without the inflated prices. After all, I don’t eat out just for the sake of a meal. I like my meals to be a stimulating experience that give me a feeling of satisfaction. Life is too short to settle for the mediocre.