Mexican restaurants in Anchorage tend to fall into two categories: fast-food style taquerias with little ambience or sit-down establishments with heavier fare, a slower pace and a margarita-pushing agenda. Serrano's Mexican Grill's new(ish) location on Northern Lights Boulevard falls nicely in between these two categories.
Calling itself a "taco pub," Serrano's maintains the fast-food service style (you order and pay at the front counter; soft drinks are self-serve) in an environment that is a solid step up from "fast food." The décor -- wooded, with copper and rusted iron accents -- is inviting and, indeed, pub-like. Big-screen TVs will please those who want to catch the game. On one wall, a list of famous Mexicans -- Oscar de la Hoya, Hugo Sanchez, Rafael Marqueza, among others -- are literally "writ large" in gigantic script.
My daughter and I arrived for lunch one afternoon in the middle of a power outage. Despite this, I was told they could take my order as long as I could pay in cash. Business continued at a brisk pace despite the glitch, and our order was served quickly. Because the restaurant was quieter than usual, we could overhear the chefs and servers conversing back and forth in Spanish, a reassuring sound when you're waiting for a Mexican meal.
The menu offers traditional appetizer choices: nachos, wings, ceviche and quesadillas. The main portion offers tacos, burritos, Mexican entrees and a few soups and salads. Most offerings give you a choice of fillings: steak, shredded beef, pork, chicken or beef tongue. Apologies to adventurous eaters -- you'll have to try the tongue yourself.
We decided to split an order of the habanero barbecue wings ($8.95). They were meaty with a sweet sauce that was heavy on the barbecue and light on the habanero. I would have liked a crispier skin and a lot more spice in the sauce. But they were tasty and we polished them off.
My daughter ordered the Serrano tacos with steak (three for $10.47). A very simple presentation, the tacos came with diced onion and a smattering of cilantro. The meat was delicious, with a hint of char from the grill and a bright note of lime. The simplicity of the dish encourages a visit to the salsa bar that offers pico de gallo, sour cream, green hot sauce and a variety of red sauces with varying degrees of heat.
For my main course, I had the fajita burrito with pork ($9.99). Stuffed with grilled peppers, onions, mushrooms and pork, it was tasty and filling. The vegetables were well-cooked, tender but not mushy. The pork was fork-tender but just a bit dry. The rice was unmemorable, but the refried beans were robust and meaty. It was a very satisfying dish.
On my next visit, I ordered the Mucho Macho platter ($10.99) with carne asada. This is basically a do-it-yourself tortilla platter with a variety of condiments. I personally love the fun of building my own tortilla pockets (hello, extra sour cream!) and the beef was delicious - salty, limey, addictive.
My husband ordered the day's special -- chicken mole with rice and beans ($8.99) - a dish that is offered regularly. The chicken was tender and flavorful. The thick savory sauce had the earthy undertones of a good gumbo. Not spicy, but deeply comforting. I can imagine making a special trip just for this dish.
One more thing Serrano's has over its fast-food competitors is the availability of beer. If, like me, you feel braver with the hot sauce when you know you can cool your tongue down with a cold Corona, then you'll appreciate the option.
Serrano's was doing a hopping business during both of my visits. Quick and convenient, with satisfying food and a pleasant atmosphere, Serrano's seems to have found a sweet spot in Midtown.
By Mara Severin
Daily News correspondent