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Los Cabos
** 1/2
Out of a possible five
$$

New spot Los Cabos certainly is a find

It remains one of the worst locations for a restaurant, but the new little Mexican place tucked into a strip mall on Coldwater Road just north of Dupont Road might be worth the hassle to get to.

Though it faces Coldwater, the building Los Cabos Mexican Grill calls home does not have a direct entry. To get there, you must turn off Coldwater just south of the mall (before you even reach it if you are heading north), then swing around the back of the structure to find a way to the front.

Once inside the restaurant – which was once home to Maza Grille and Ali Babba’s – it gets a lot easier as Los Cabos has a pretty standard selection of Mexican/Tex-Mex fare and a comfortable, clean atmosphere with modern furnishings and some restraint when it comes to the flamboyant and cliché accents that flood many Mexican restaurants.

The first thing every person who visits Los Cabos should order is the guacamole. It is prepared fresh tableside. I asked for mine with extra tomatoes, and it was fabulous. The avocado was ripe and creamy, there was the perfect hint of lime and the light, crispy chips added just enough salt. The dark yellow tortilla chips also had a pronounced corn flavor I enjoyed.

Those chips stayed crisp when topped with ground beef, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, jalapenos, melted white cheese sauce, guacamole and sour cream in the Los Cabos Nachos. This appetizer was perfectly made with just the right amount of each ingredient layered properly throughout so each bite had a little of it all.

Another fantastic appetizer was the off-menu Quesadilla Al Pastor, which I was told can be requested most any time.

A large flour tortilla was folded and filled with the chile-seasoned pork, cheese, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. The tender pork had a smoky, zesty flavor sort of like chorizo, the nicely grilled and caramelized onions added a lot of sweetness, and the dish was simply delicious.

The best entrée I tried was the Burrito de Chile Verde, which I had stuffed with chicken. Even the lunch version of this green salsa-topped burrito was huge, running the length of my oblong plate. The stewed chicken inside was decently moist and well seasoned, but it was lifted to something special by the still-snappy green bell peppers and onions that, when combined with the tangy salsa verde on top, made the burrito lively and bright. With a smear of sour cream, it was delightful.

The grilled chicken and shrimp dinner looked promising with two large slices of fresh, ripe avocado framing the pressed, grilled chicken breast, which was topped with five jumbo shrimp and blanketed in a white queso sauce. The shrimp were tasty, but the chicken was pretty bland and a tad dry. The cheese sauce could not mask these errors. The side of charro beans I had with it also needed some salt.

The chicken in my Los Cabos Fajita was also a little overcooked and dry, but the carne asada steak and the shrimp were fine. It also had the same grilled onions and peppers that made the quesadilla so good. This version of a fajita was also topped with crumbled white cheese, which melted and oozed perfectly down into the nooks and crannies of the pile of meat and vegetables, allowing a little cheese in each bite.

With my lunch express platter, I chose to try an enchilada and a tamale from the list, which also included tostadas, chalupas and tacos. The lunch includes one item, but I paid a little extra because I really wanted to try the tamale since I think tamales are a good measuring stick for any Mexican restaurant.

I also paid a little extra to have shredded beef instead of ground beef inside my enchilada and was glad I did. The stringy, shredded meat was tender and the sauce it was braised in gave it a sort of barbecued flavor that I enjoyed. The tamale was just OK. The masa seemed pretty firm, but it still soaked up a lot of the sauce poured over it and, therefore, lost some of its natural corn flavor. There was a generous amount of stewed pork inside, however.

There was one tamale that was alone worth going back to Los Cabos for. The dessert tamale had coconut and raisins in its masa, which had a reddish-pink color from what I assumed was perhaps some strawberry or other red fruit juice added to it. Whatever made it pink did not sweeten the masa, however, and that was a good thing because it let the natural sweetness and flavor of the corn be the star. Had it not been for the addition of chocolate sauce and caramel, it would have been a pretty savory dessert.

The sweetest thing about my trips to Los Cabos Mexican Grill was the service. It was stellar. My servers were knowledgeable about the menu, made good suggestions and there was no language barrier. The manager came to my table to check on things and told me she and her husband run the restaurant – he is the head cook – and seemed genuinely concerned about how well we liked everything.

Although, overall, the food wasn’t significantly better than many good Mexican restaurants in Fort Wayne, that warm, friendly service – and, of course, the fabulous guacamole – was a big factor in assuring I will go back again.

Restaurant: Los Cabos Mexican Grill

Address: 10812 Coldwater Road

Phone: 637-0515

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Los Cabos Nachos ($8.99), guacamole ($5.50), chicken and shrimp ($15.89), Burrito de Chile Verde ($6.85 lunch; $8 dinner), Los Cabos Fajitas ($29.90), express lunch ($5.49)

Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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