Set back in a seedy-looking strip mall, where Platte Avenue meets Platte Place, resides an interesting Mexican restaurant that's worth a try.
Formerly known as Guanajuatos, Los Arcos isn't much to look at from the outside. But new owners Florentino and Xochitl Hernandez are making significant progress.
They've already stripped the mariachi band photos from the walls and replaced the drab industrial carpet with an attractive Saltillo tile floor. The kitchen also has been renovated, creating a more pleasant workspace for the chefs. Completing the makeover, the namesake arches have been installed, ringed in lovely brick, connecting the comedor and the bar to create a more unified feel.
While you ponder the sprawling menu, indulge in a few house-made tortilla chips, especially if they're still warm, and some tasty house salsa. Theirs is the intensely red, saucy and spicy kind, mostly free of chunks but delivering big flavors of onion, cilantro and red chiles.
Like the salsa, most of the offerings remain true to south-of-the-border traditions, with a specialty in seafood items. Perhaps a drink from the well-stocked bar will suit your fancy, especially if Florentino makes good on his promise to make margaritas from scratch in the near future.
Ceviche makes a good starter, particularly as the day wears on. Made with your choice of fish or shrimp, it's done simply with citrus, cilantro and onions, and can be perked up tableside with a few dashes of Tapatio sauce. On one visit, the fish could have used more time in the cure, so we took it home and ate it later.
Fish tacos and chile rellenos make the best bets for main dishes. The latter -- on the soft end of the chile relleno spectrum -- are delicious. A perfect mix of cheese, chile and time in the fry makes for a gooey mouthful of happiness, supported by a healthy dose of tangy tomatillo sauce that brings the other elements together beautifully.
Los Arcos' fish tacos are the best in town, hands down. No batter and hot oil here; just seared chunks of fresh fish spiked with cilantro and chile, then dropped into tortillas with lettuce and tomatoes. They're everything fish tacos ought to be: light, flavorful and satisfying.
Fajitas, the one Tex-Mex dish we tried, turned in a solid performance. Although not sizzling on arrival, they exuded a pleasant grill-smokiness and disappeared quickly.
Other items could be better. Standards like enchiladas and carne adovada are rather pedestrian, and excessive salt ruined what otherwise would have been a delightful plate of grilled cod fillets floating in butter and garlic. A monstrous breakfast burrito came stuffed with eggs and potatoes, but with only a few flecks of the advertised chorizo. Timing also must be improved, as some dishes arrive hot while others are barely tepid.
These shortcomings notwithstanding, Los Arcos has a solid foundation upon which to build. We have many Mexican restaurants in Colorado Springs, yet no great ones. The Hernandezes' enthusiasm and commitment to quality make the sky the limit.
Continued cosmetic improvements and some fine-tuning in the kitchen could make Los Arcos a destination for dinner and a margarita. In the meantime, stop by for fish tacos, ceviche or chile rellenos.
-- David Torres-Rouff
2355 Platte Place, 635-4861
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.