Flickering light 

Tex-Mex detracts from Los Faroles' cool comal platters

click to enlarge This meaty mixed grill deserves your attention. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • This meaty mixed grill deserves your attention.

A comal is a griddle, a farole a street lamp, and Los Faroles a new Mexican restaurant on the south end. Comal los Faroles is a giant $29.95 platter that'll feed between two and four gringos, depending on their size.

Get it, because here's what happens: chips and salsa and small bowls of shredded iceberg arrive with cups of caldo de camarón. The salad's your basic chewable water, but the soup's marvelously earthy with guajillo chili heat effusing from a shrimp stock backbone. Prawns float with their heads intact.

Next a parfait glass appears, filled with a decent white-fish ceviche, scooped with a stack of tostadas. Then a goblet shows up, stuffed with cocktail shrimp in a pleasantly non-ketchup-y sauce. Then plates of white rice and modestly cheesy refried beans land, with foil rolls of warm tortillas. All this is just the setup for the main attraction, and you're already buried.

As with most cast-iron presentations, an approaching sizzle announces show time. A huge oval pan sunk in a wooden block fills the center of a square four-top table. A whole tilapia lies vacant-eyed above a pork chop, strips of carne asada, a pounded chicken breast, fish sticks, a breaded fish fillet, and a squiggly mound of diced pulpo (octopus), shrimp tails and calamari rounds.

Santo infierno, Batman! It's so much food for the price. The seafood heap's the best of it all, garlic buttered, with the pulpo feeling almost like fatty pork bits and the calamari tasting super fresh and entirely non-chewy. Char leads the modestly seasoned chicken and beef, and the fried fish bits are better wrapped into one of the tortillas. The whole fish bears an atypical, clove essence in the spice mix, that surprises as crisp skin's pulled from pin-bones. A giant mug of sickly sweet horchata, regular or strawberry-flavored, comes in handy to balance all the salt and sear.

With plates like this, Los Faroles presents a less Americanized version of Mexican fare. (Chef/owner Erika Gonzalez is from Zacatecas, and also co-owns El Rey Del Taco and El Rey Del Taco 2 with her husband Cesar Gonzalez.) That is until you return for breaded fish tacos that taste bland and musty, buried in sour cream and shredded cheese, placing you back in the sad sea of area Tex-Mex blah-ness. A combo plate of a not-very-cheesy enchilada, crispy beef taco and guacamole tostada (read: bare avocado slices in a dimpled fried corn bowl) fared only slightly better. Order the searing house tomatillo salsa to attempt livening them up. And as a side soup cup, get the wonderful guajillo chili-pork pozole instead of the watery, thinly seasoned beef green chile pozole.

We finish with flan, baked overly dense but mostly spot-on for burnt caramel yielding to vanilla-laced custard. I can't help picture it as we depart the square, windowless building, painted burgundy on high and low trim segments and mustard-yellow on the wooden middle panels — pretty much resembling flan. Red, white and teal tables pop with color inside, as do overhead papel picado (prayer-flag-like perforated paper strands), plus wall murals and mounted craft works on neatly textured walls.

Though Los Faroles pegs cuteness and cleanliness, the greatness at some turns and disappointment at others seems to indicate that the real illumination needed should cast light on consistency. I say, let the comal and truer Mexican fare guide the way.

  • Tex-Mex detracts from Los Faroles' cool comal platters

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