Steppin’ Out – Los Pinos

los pinosI first wrote about Los Pinos in Cameron park a little over two years ago. If you are not familiar with it, it is, the restaurant at 3420 Palmer, the same place that some time ago was, in order, Hemalayas Indian Restaurant, Blackwell’s and the club house for the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy.

My friend Russ Salazar and I dropped in for lunch a couple of weeks ago. It was a little before noon, and the place was already about one-third full.
We were pleasantly seated in a booth by a window and spent a couple of minutes looking over the menu when the complementary chips with two salsas and beans arrived.

One salsa was a mild, the other had fire roasted chiles (yum) and the frijoles were smooth and delicious.

A few minutes later we were greeted by the new owner, Dan Neher.

Dan told us that he was going to have the kitchen send out small portions of several dishes and really wanted our opinions on them.
While we were waiting, he added that he wanted everyone to know that this is not a drastic change in ownership and that they have kept the same recipes and even retained the manager, Bruce Taitague, a gentleman whom I have known for several years. What they have done is up the quality of the ingredients.

Our first sample dish was Camerones A La Crema, shrimp sauteed with a mild chipotle cream sauce. The sauce was wonderful, AS WERE ALL OF THE REST OF THE SAUCES! The shrimp were a bit overcooked, something I do at home.

That was the only even slightly negative comment either of us has about the entire dining experience. In other words, the day was full of smiles.

Our second sample was a pork tamale with a nice red sauce and cheese on top. Russ’ first comment was, “It isn’t just enchilada sauce, it’s really good.” Russ and I both love pork tamales and this one was top notch all the way. It was followed by a Basa Taco, grilled basa fish with red cabbage, onions and avocado. It came with an great spicy chili sauce and was excellent. I have always loved fish tacos made with grilled fish.

Our next dish was the one on which I usually rate Mexican restaurants: a chile relleno. Theirs is made with roasted pasilla chile pepper, stuffed with Monterey jack cheese, battered and fried. Then it is topped with salsa Espanola. The pasilla pepper makes a great tasting relleno and again, the sauce was outstanding. Only the stem was left on the plate.

That was followed by their top selling dish, Chile Verde, which comes as chunks of sauteed pork in a jalapeño and tomatillo salsa. Russ showed me the proper way to eat it, cutting the large pieces of meat into four or more smaller pieces and putting them on a warm tortilla to eat. I watched him and then ate it with a fork (Gringo). The pork was tender and delicious and the sauce was, again, outstanding.

Bruce, who had been bouncing back and forth between our table and others, while also greeting guests and monitoring the kitchen, brought to our table their signature Pinos Poppers, which are halves of grilled jalapeños filled with a spinach garlic cream cheese and topped with bacon. They were different from all the other poppers I have tried, refreshing, and with a nice crunchy bite.

Then Dan set down something totally unexpected, one of their top specialities, Salmon Asesinoa. It is a salmon filet stuffed with spinach and crabmeat and then topped with capers, tomatoes and a dill cream sauce. Unlike the previous samples, this was a full dinner plate with rice and very fresh vegetables.

This is one of those dishes were you eat it very slowly just to make it last. It was extraordinary. The salmon was perfectly cooked and the sauce paired beautifully with it. thinking about it still brings a smile to my face.

We only ate half it, so since he was heading straight home, Russ took it to share with his lady friend. I had to go to yoga class that day.

While we were dining on the salmon, Dan brought us their Strawberry Chimichanga. It is a deep fried “burrito” filled with strawberries, drizzled with caramel and raspberry sauce and then topped with cinnamon sugar and whipped cream. We were too full to do it justice, but it was very good.

Sadly I am running out of room, so that is only a tiny sample of their large menu that is filled with delicious dishes. Stop by and pick up a copy, or, better yet, stop by and enjoy a great meal.

Their Daily Lunch Specials (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.) – $6.95: Monday, Chicken Enchilada with rice and beans; Tuesday, Burger with seasoned fries; Wednesday, Tostada with rice and beans; Thursday, Chicken Taco with rice and beans, and Friday, Pork Tamales with rice and beans.

The All Day Specials – $9.95 are: Sunday, Pollo Cozumel Salad; Tuesday, Chile Verde with rice, beans and tortillas; Tuesday, Basa Tacos with rice and beans; Wednesday, Prime Rib Burger with seasoned fries; Thursday, Pork Tamales with rice and beans; Friday, Swisa Enchiladas with rice and beans and Saturday, Carnitas Burrito with rice and beans. Two of these, two house margaritas and a dessert for $35.

Wednesday is half off day for kids under 10 and there is no corkage fee on Thursdays.

The also have a private banquet room upstairs that is available for parties, meetings and such. There is no charge to use it and no minimum. If you choose to hold your event elsewhere, they do off-site catering.

There is also a nice lit patio for outside dining.

Great atmosphere, great food, friendly people. Full bar and a good selection of wine and beer.

They are open daily from 11 a.m. Close at 9:30 Sunday through Thursday, and at 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday nights. For more information call (530) 672-1403.

Oh, the fresh flowers on the tables come from the Ponderosa High School floriculture students.

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