Quates Mexican Restaurant in Oakland Park, just north of Wilton Manors, looks like your typical Mexican take-out place, and in many ways it is.
But is also outstanding in so many areas it is certainly not typical. Quates (or as it is more typically spelled cuates) means “friends” and if our experience is typical, everyone is treated as a friend.
There’s nothing fancy or pretentious here, a few tables outside and about a half-dozen booths inside, all lending even more of a feeling of a fast-food joint. And service is quick, no sooner had our butts touched the seat than we were asked if we knew what we wanted, or if we needed menus. I have a feeling that almost everyone who goes in there has a favorite dish. For me, there are so many from which to choose, that I will always want to try something else.
Chef Jose Oscar Villatoro has more than 20 years of experience, and brings his passion for food to create, not just a meal, but a Tex-Mex experience. And, as if on a mission to disprove that old saying, “You get what you pay for,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find much on the menu priced more than $15. I paid less for my steak entrée than I have for an appetizer at some of the fancier Mexican restaurants in town and yet the quality of the food at Quates is outstanding.
I hesitate to call the nachos an appetizer as any of the various options could easily serve as a meal. Priced at $6.50 for a “plain” order of crispy corn tortilla chips topped with melted cheese, jalapenos, and lettuce, to just under $10 for those topped with grilled chicken, steak, or ground beef, with black beans and guacamole, each arrives on a huge platter. For something different try the Mexican pizza; a large crispy flour tortilla covered with refried beans, ground beef, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese.
In places like this, salads are often more of an afterthought, but Quates offers numerous substantial choices, from an avocado salad accompanied by either steak or fried pork chunks, to a quartet of taco salads. Speaking of tacos, at Quates they come a la carte, or in pairs (continuing with the friends’ theme) in combos that include a side of yellow rice and refried beans. The protein selections are classics, shrimp, tongue, carne al pastor, ground beef, grilled chicken or steak, as well as a vegetarian version. Fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas round out the usual suspect entrees.
However, the real joy is to be had with the home-cooked style dishes such as palomilla, a pounded sirloin steak topped with chopped onions, and parsley served with churrasco (grilled skirt steak), or the delight I was lucky enough to order; top sirloin and a cheese enchilada. The steak arrived cooked to a perfect medium-rare as I ordered, with a soft and gooey cheese enchilada in a piquant verde sauce. Entrees are served with either white or yellow rice, black beans or refried beans, and often, fried plantains.
Our friend Sumner raved about his masas de cerdo, which showcased chunks of pork marinated with garlic sauce, then deep-fried and topped with sauteed onions (usually this dish is served with raw onions). My buddy Milly thoroughly enjoyed her camarones en salsa shrimp cooked in Quates’ salsa criolla, while my hubby loved the veggie burro, a large flour tortilla stuffed with sauteed onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, green/red peppers, topped with salsa verde and Monterey cheese.
I can’t wait to go back to try such yummy sounding dishes as pollo a la plancha (boneless chicken breast), picadillo (seasoned ground beef cooked with olives, onions, and peppers) and, of course, ropa vieja, (shredded beef, slow-cooked to perfection).
There is a wide selection of Latin American sodas and a few cocktails. My strawberry daiquiri was listed as $6.50 on the menu, but I was charged $8.25, the same as a margarita. It was so large that I could barely finish it, so I didn’t complain. Dessert options include Tres leches cake, flan, and fried ice cream, but we were too stuffed to even consider a dessert then. Although we did head over to Wilton Creamery later that night — can’t let a cheat day go to waste, even if it does go to the waist.
3701 N Andrews Ave., Oakland Park
Keeping Abreast of the Times
The mountain lodge-themed sports chain Twin Peaks, which takes the objectification of women to a whole new level, has opened practically next door to Hooters. The Texas-based chain has gone into the space formerly occupied by Bistreaux, 400 North on Andrews… Thuan Lam, best known for creating Phat Boy Sushi, will open a new spot near the end of the year in a building on Progresso Drive. It will feature Japanese-Latin fusion small plates. An “old school” New York-style deli, with a website that promises, “no bearded hipster baristas here,” Mitch’s Downtown Bagel Café, will open in the fall in hipster central, Flagler Village at 540 N. Andrews Ave.