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RESTAURANT REVIEW AGUILAR'S HACIENDA : Big Fun : Hearty fare such as a three-pound burrito is served up in an unpretentious atmosphere.

February 14, 1991|HILARY DOLE KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I have a fondness for Aguilar's Hacienda, because every time I've gone there, I've had a great time.

It's a comfortable restaurant with absolutely no pretentions. To get there you pass an odd, vertical facade of tile (somewhat reminiscent of a tile roof), and walk through a festive patio covered with quasi-Mayan murals. Inside, the restaurant is spacious and sparsely decorated; its most outstanding features are a large, slightly incongruous Victorian wooden bar and a huge mural which colorfully depicts a tree abloom with wonderful things to eat.

The menu, the same at lunch and dinner, offers fairly standard, reasonably priced Mexican meals. The chips are crisp, the salsa potently hot, and the combination plates many.

We began by trying an enchilada and chile relleno combination, served with rice and beans. The enchilada was a satisfying rendition of its genre, nicely flavored and full of melted cheese. The chile was very big and stringy. The beans were simple and sweet, but the rice oddly grainy.

The real bargain here is a three-pound burrito. When we ordered it, the waiter's eyes widened. And no wonder. The dish is concocted on the banana split principle--if a little is good, then too much must be a whole lot better. It had everything: beef, chicken, beans, fresh tomatoes . . . and it tasted like ranch food for hungry cowhands. We all dug in, and while it was perfectly presentable food, it was sort of like trying to eat a house. I recommend inviting six people over for dinner and getting one to go.

The albondigas soup, filled with delicious little meatballs, was wonderful--hearty and homey.

The best dishes at Aguilar's come from the chalkboard specials, where most of the fish dishes can be found. Crab quesadillas were made with light flour tortillas, a bit of mayonnaise sauce, fresh tomatoes and a wonderful, sweet white cheese. A shrimp taco came with a corn tortilla, several chewy shrimp and lots of grated lettuce and cheese. Tasty quesadillas consisted of tender, mesquite-flavored meat, bits of tomatoes, lettuce and olives and a blanket of sour cream.

The waiter assured us that what tasted like generic bottled salad dressing was homemade. He also claimed that the sweet pink wine he brought to the table was a Chardonnay. Why, Chardonnays are frequently pink, he said. He was wrong, but like all great liars, he had a charming way with an apology.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Aguilar's Hacienda, 278 E. Main St., Ventura, 641-2433. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, 8 a.m.-9 p.m Saturday-Sunday; lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Wine and beer. Street parking. No credit cards. Dinner for two, food only $9-$17.50. (In three weeks the restaurant will be open on Mondays.)

Recommended dishes: chile relleno and enchilada plate, with rice, beans and soup or salad, $6.25; three-pound burrito, $6.95; crab quesadillas, $6.95.

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