Warm salsa: my new favorite creature comfort and the first reason to check out the most recent addition to downtown's Mexican-food circuit, Alice's Mexican Cuisine.
Everybody's got warm chips I'm over it. But how nice to dip into a thick, warm salsa that amplifies the jalapeo peppers' spiciness, paying customers a little forward credit for possessing a modest heat threshold.
A lot of places that deal in heat are afraid to burn you, so they cater to the most sensitive palate with the freebies. But a place that throws a little fire at you within half a minute of sitting shows some chutzpah.
Unfortunately, the salsa proved to be the most piquant part of my visits to Alice's. But, in fairness, spice is not the end goal or sole purpose of good Mexican food. I just happen to be an occasionally masochistic eater.
Alice Ballesteros took over the Pikes Peak Avenue alleyway site that townies have known for years as Little Bangkok, behind Josh & John's ice cream shop. She moved in the day after the Thai outfit closed its doors, about a month and a half ago, and gave the place a Southwest facelift, complete with mini-murals done by her son John, who returned from Florida to be chef.
The two promote a homestyle approach, serving simple family recipes of enchiladas, tacos, tamales, flautas, gorditas, rellenos and chimichangas alongside a slim list of appetizers. Prices range from $2.50 to $9.95.
My first visit brought a jalapeo poppers appetizer, followed by guacamole tacos and cheese-stuffed rellenos, each plated between Mexican rice and refried beans with humble presentation. Nothing in the batch offended, though similarly, nothing in the batch necessarily stood out. I left feeling satisfied for a good price, having received attentive, friendly service, with a sense of OK-ness about the whole meal.
On second visit, we opted for the chicken tortilla soup, generous on the pollo but bearing a striking resemblance to Campbell's soup on broth execution. The shrimp cocktail essentially proved your average peel-and-eats layered with tomato sauce in a parfait glass rather homely.
My friend's green chicken enchiladas were serviceable, but somewhat dry and dominated by the tortillas' flavor. They could have benefited from additional green chile; in fact, a good smothering would bring the dish to life.
I enjoyed my chimichangas delicious deep-fried flour tortillas loaded with shredded beef, served alongside guacamole and sour cream for dipping, and beans and rice. For dessert, we tried the sole sweet menu option, a tasty tres leches cake, served with aplomb atop a sweet cream sauce and dressed in a sliced strawberry a nice finish to the meal.
On the way out, I stopped to chat with Alice, who had been buzzing around the small place performing all functions between floor and kitchen. Just retired from a nearby office job after 30 years, she's fulfilling her childhood dream of owning a restaurant.
A visit to her dream ultimately feels like stopping by a small-town caf, where one fills up satisfactorily for cheap, but isn't bowled over by any frills. That's OK. It's good, the salsa's warm, and in many ways, it's a true reflection of Mexican food's simplicity.
Alice's Mexican Cuisine
109 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 578-8882
Hours: Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 4-8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.
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