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DAVID NELSON ON RESTAURANTS

Hernandez Hideaway Cheerfully Greets Weary Souls With Heaping-Full Plates

May 10, 1990|DAVID NELSON

The host at Hernandez Hideaway greeted a late-arriving party on a Friday night with a sympathetic expression and a friendly, "So you survived another week, huh?"

A quick glance made it clear that the room was filled with survivors, all of them happily digging into plates spread to the rims with beans, rice and any of the numerous Mexican-style dishes that over the years have helped Hernandez Hideaway to contend for the title of North County's worst-kept secret. And, although the restaurant hasn't yet hung out a "This burrito's for you" sign, it does seem to encourage a relaxed, end-of-the-week atmosphere every night.

The restaurant's name was perhaps more accurate some years ago, tucked away on the shores of Lake Hodges. The drive to the lake now is a little less bucolic, but the restaurant's surroundings still remain rural and charming. If the time of the month is right, a post-dinner stroll near the moonlit waters of the lake is as refreshing as a second cup of coffee.

Nothing on the menu will seem new to anyone acquainted with Southern California-style Mexican cooking, but the selection should seem a complete and even exhaustive survey of this cuisine. Several items are paired with a chile relleno , a dish for which the restaurant says it is famous, and among such combo plates are those starring a carne asada top sirloin, an unusual grilled quesadilla stuffed with cheese and shredded beef, a plump tamale and the house specialty, chicken enchiladas with sour cream sauce.

Hernandez Hideaway has been cooking this menu for years and gives less attention to some dishes than it ought. A guest who is a native Californian and a lifelong aficionado of this style of cooking pulled a tortilla chip out of the basket, gave it a thoughtful bite and said, "This leaves a lot to be desired." Both the red and green salsas passed muster, however, and the red salsa can serve duty as more than a dip for the complimentary chips; a big spoonful of it stirred into the fresh, chunky guacamole (another house special) brought the creamy mixture to life.

Skipping through the first 10 items on the list brings one to the sour cream chicken enchilada. "No. 11 is our best seller, and you'll like it, too," said the waitress. The irresistible suggestion resulted in a high-piled plate being served in short order. The chicken was dry--perhaps because it was towards the end of the dinner hour or perhaps because the kitchen makes this dish in such quantity--but dry it was, and the sour cream sauce was hard to find. A request for more sauce brought a brimming bowlful, and it did add not only smoothness to the serving but a certain pleasant heat, thanks to the bits of chilies with which it was spiked. The chile relleno on the side offered an attractive, savory alternative to the rather austere fowl, the flavor robust yet sultry under its cloak of burnt umber-colored ranchero sauce.

The tamale, stuffed with the same shredded beef that here turns up in the machaca and other dishes, was a straightforward and happy preparation, the savory meat nicely balanced against the soft dough and the mildly spicy sauce. As is the case with all entrees, the plate was more than generously garnished with good rice and smooth, savory beans topped with a bit of cheese; dinners also include a side of Mexican-style slaw, the cabbage dry and tangy and an excellent antidote to the richness and heat of many main courses.

Other menu highlights include pork chile verde (which can be had by itself or transformed into burritos); chicken breasts simmered in ranchero sauce and bedded on rice; shrimp Vera Cruz; carne asada burritos; carnitas and steak ranchero. The dessert list offers several kinds of cheesecake, bunuelos and a thick, creamy and excellently flavored flan.

* HERNANDEZ HIDEAWAY

19328 Lake Drive, Escondido

746-1444

Dinner Tuesday through Friday, brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday.

Credit cards accepted.Dinner for two, including one margarita each, tax and tip, $25 to $35.

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