Setting the Table
While everything my son and I tried at La Poblanita in Myrtle Beach was great, it was the corn tortillas that hooked me.
The Rivera family lived next door to me when I was a kid in central Illinois, and the mom, Maria, made fresh corn tortillas almost every day. The cloud of aromatic corn vapor that filled her kitchen is a vivid and pleasant memory that carried over into the restaurant Maria Rivera later established and still owns in Mason City, Ill.
Those memories came rushing back when we entered La Poblanita. I didn’t need to see the cooks flipping fresh tortillas on the grill to know this lunch was going to be muy sabroso; I could smell it.
Restaurant owner Blandina Olmedo has created a sunny, colorful, tidy and cheerful diner in a little strip mall near the intersection of Highway 15 and 3rd Avenue South. Booths separated by ruffled green curtain strips are on the left, while on the right is a counter facing the grill. A pueblo effect is achieved with the use of tiles, a Mexican countryside mural and an interesting triple-V roof-like overhang above the counter. There are about 30 seats.
Down the Hatch
Locals fill those seats quickly at peak dining times.
A chalkboard by the counter announces the day’s specials, and on June 8 they included Tacos de Cecina (smoked beef), Cecina con Nopales (smoked beef with prickly pear), Fish Fillet, Garlic Shrimp, Meat Enchiladas, Mole Poblano with chicken and fried fish.
I went for the mole for $9, and was delighted with a plate of sticky-yet-firm yellow rice with peas, corn and diced carrots, and two chicken legs in a pool of chocolate-tinged spicy mole. The meal came with four fresh corn tortillas wrapped in foil, which I happily filled with chicken and rice and dipped in the sauce. I wish I had more right now.
If you don’t see something you like on the specials board, never fear, because the menu is extensive.
Other dishes include Burritos and Enchiladas, Tostados and Gorditas, and Empanadas and Tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches with a choice of meat and eggs; all come with mayonnaise, lettuce, refried beans, tomatoes, onions, avocado, jalapenos and Oaxaca cheese). Tacos are $2 each, and each is prepared with cilantro, onions, sliced radish and lime juice. Taco meat choices are grilled steak, spicy pork, tripe, beef tongue, chicken, fried pork and chorizo sausage. There are also Quesadillas; my son had one filled with spicy pork, and loved it.
Some menu categories may not be familiar to gringos, like $3 Sopes which are like tacos with meat, beans, avocado slices, cheese and sour cream. Sincronizadas are grilled flour tortillas filled with ham and cheese, while Huaraches are filled with meat, refried beans, red or green sauce, lettuce, white cheese and onions topped with avocado.
Platters are $6.50-$9.50 with choices such as Mexican Style Beefsteak, Breaded Steak, Scrambled or Sunny Side Up Eggs, Grilled Chicken and Breaded Chicken. Jalapenos are involved in many dishes. Seafood entrees range from a $4 Shrimp Taco with avocado to a $10 whole fish that’s scored and deep-fried. The $9 Shrimp Cocktail served with crackers has a tomato cocktail sauce containing onions, cilantro, lime juice and avocado.
On Saturdays and Sundays four extra soups priced $8 to $13 are available: Shrimp Soup, Beef Soup, Seafood Soup and Menudo, which is a classic spicy Mexican soup containing tripe (not the Puerto Rican boy band of the ‘80s).
We tried two of the three fruit-flavored beverages swirling in dispensers on the counter - one pineapple and one a type of Mexican fruit I couldn’t identify. They reminded us of exotically flavored lemonades, cost $2 each and were served over cubed ice in never-ending huge glasses. I didn’t see any beer, but did see glasses of Bolla wine listed on the specials board. Also served are sodas, bottled water, energy drinks and milkshakes.
Our server was efficient, friendly and spoke excellent English.