So we finally made it to the mexican restaurant I have been dying to try because the owner has a nice long-time Richmond restaurant, and I heard it was authentic upscale Mexican Food. Having traveled a lot in Central Mexico, I was so excited for an upscale (non Tex-Mex) mexican place. It is surprisingly hard to find anywhere but Mexico. And, sadly, I was not going to find it at Tio Pablo's. In fact, as you will read, it was a mix of random and not consistent approaches that really led nowhere. First, the food. The food was ok. It was ok. Very much just OK. Actually mine was less than OK but I ordered the ribeye steak and I guess I was expecting a ribeye steak but what I got was a hanger steak. It was tough and not flavorful at all. Some undercooked grilled onions thrown on top and two sides. Bland watery black beans and guacamole- why is that a side you ask? Because is is literally $4.50 for a side of guacamole. More on this upcoming. My husband had the special of the night that was certainly better than my strange steak but again- two sides and then -just not that impressive. But you know what? You are just given mixed messages all over the place-is this a take out food truck or an expensive upscale mexican place? So- We walk in and it is one large shared table-the new thing for restaurants in Richmond that is completely painful. Especially if when there is no big rowdy post-rehearsal dinner crowd to pony up to it- you have several couples sort of scattered about it trying to get a little privacy. Cringeworthy. However, When the crowd IS there it is obnoxiously loud. What exactly is good about this lose lose table seating scenario? Well- to make matters worse at Tio Pablo's- your other options are - TWO small 4 tops in the window and then two huge long bars against the wall with high stools to sit and face the wall as you eat. And then 4 barstools. What the heck? Ok then you assume, like me, that this will be a pitstop kind of place like the stand up bars in NYC that sell Nathan's hot dogs that you cram in and zoom out-well.... no. Because here is the problem. It is a "super hip" expensively renovated dive- in other words they spent a fortune creating what NYC people do because there is no space. Newsflash-No one LIKES to stand or sit next to 30 other people staring at a wall and eating. In NYC, customers do it not for a dining experience but because they are re-fueling. So I can go for that but our bill for two with two drinks each and two entrees was 2 bucks shy of $80. WHAT? And steak that was too tough to cut- made impossible by the plastic knife and fork I was given. Yes. Plastic fork and knife given with one paper napkin. The food was mostly served in plastic ramekins. The $4.50 side of guacamole was served in a medium sized (maybe 1/3 cup) flimsy PLASTIC ramekin. As was the pico de gallo, the side of potato's and well- everything. It was just almost comically bad. I am sawing away at the tough steak and had to ask for a better knife and the very sweet server ran to get one. So then I am laughing trying to use a plastic fork with a real steak knife to cut this steak (and still struggling). It was just terrible. And I was with my husband so it was funny but can you imagine taking someone there for a business meeting. Yikes! Or a first date? double yikes. You know- I don't care if the food was amazing (which it wasn't at all) but if you put it in a plastic ramekin that I can buy at Cosco- huh? I am really perplexed that this was anyone's idea of upscale mexican or even food truck mexican. It is insulting to Mexican chefs (who can make a meal that is divine and amazing and usually very affordable). My advice? Buy some silverware. Tear out those long awkward bars and doubly awkward tables if you want to attract the crowd that can afford your prices. And while you are at it- silverware. No one does plastic silverware at a place that charges the prices you charge. Actually no one does plastic cutlery that is not a food truck or a fast food place. It is almost rude. And not to mention incredibly NOT green. I don't get that at all. All this gluten free veggie menu stuff then some good old landfill plastic to eat with? I mean- mixed messages!
The good things? The server was very nice. However-the bartender was totally affected. We don't do Tex Mex here she made she to tell us superior-like while seating us at one of two tables that they have (is Tex Mex now a bad thing? I like it and also like traditional mexican food- but she said it like Ito like Tex Mex was to be some redneck hunting down pourable cheese stadium nachos or something). Well- Here is my final word- I'll be heading to a good ole Richmond Tex Mex place where I can sit at a booth or table alone with my husband or friend and have a nice dinner while cutting my steak with a good old stainless steel knife and fulfill my mexican craving with some good old fashioned ambiance and guacamole made table side and not served in a plastic container. Just because you have designed your restaurant to look like a hole in the wall does not mean it needs to be one. I'm actually bummed to write this because I wanted this to be a really good restaurant but honestly, I was a bit shocked. We arrived at about 7:45 and one lone two top with two laptops came in after us and hunkered up to the side bar and popped them open and proceeded to work or read email while downing their food. Do you think they paid $80, too?? We left at 8:45 and 4 people were left there (2 on laptops) and three girls at the bar. Must be the tables. Or the food. Or the plastic forks. Or.......sigh.
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