The type of Mexican cuisine familiar to most diners is Tex-Mex, the style of food preparation found in the Tejano culture of Texas.
To most folks, Tex-Mex is a working man’s meal, meaning tacos, enchiladas and such that are usually smothered in spicy red sauce with jalapeno peppers either in it or on the side. However, just as our nation has many different regional and local cuisines, so Mexico’s cuisines are just as varied and just as delicious.
One of the versions that is gaining in popularity locally is called Cali-Mex, or Mexican cuisine as found in both upper and lower (Baja) California.
Taking tacos as an example, the typical Tex-Mex taco is heavy on the cheese, ground beef, refried beans and taco sauce. The Cali-Mex version will be lighter, have fish instead of beef and use garlic, grilled or fresh vegetables and whole black or white beans instead of the refried kind. The best place to find the Cali-Mex version of Mexican cuisine in the Tri-Cities is Ole’s Guacamoles on South Roan Street in Johnson City.
Owner Alfredo Delatorre has made some forward-thinking changes in the two years Ole’s Guacamoles has been in business. For a start, the restaurant’s outside is painted a bright, festive yellow and adorned with an avocado mural that runs right round the building.
Inside, Delatorre has added a sizable bar serving liquors and beers. There is also a salsa bar set up in the dining area for those who want to challenge the Scoville index, as the dine-around bunch and I did when we visited Ole’s Guacamoles for supper recently.
Our server, Felipe, was very helpful, especially with the Dieter’s caloric regimen, and our pending reconnaissance-in-force upon genus Capsicum.
Felipe suggested various salsas to match the entrees we chose. My dining partner and the Retiree decided to split a Sizzling Combo ($12.99), while the Dieter chose the Veggie Quesadilla ($8.99), and I had a grilled Pollo Loco chicken wrap ($7.99) along with an order of flautas ($1.99) and a chili relleno ($3.99). The Carnivore picked a Choriqueso burrito ($10.99) getting his with a side of spicy rice and some sour cream. We all hit the salsa bar, bringing back a variety of Ole’s Guacamoles’ sauces to try with our meals, all of which arrived tableside in about fifteen minutes.
My Pollo Loco wrap was truly Cali-Mex to the max, being marinated chicken strips grilled to a turn and bedded down with a good mix of shredded lettuce, tomatoes, fresh avocado slices, red onions and creamy cilantro ranch dressing, all of it wrapped up in a soft flour tortilla, then cut in half for easy handling.
By adding the house’s tomatillo salsa and spicy guacamole salsa together, I achieved a smoothness of texture and a good variety of sharp, tangy flavors with a nice, spicy-hot finish to every bite. The chile relleno was a perfectly prepared poblano pepper, stuffed with cheese, batter-dipped and deep-fried. Observing the size of the poblano, my dining partner suggested that two of the restaurant’s chile rellenos would make a satisfying lunch.
The two flautas I’d ordered were more taquito than flauta, being comprised of shredded chicken rolled up into two corn tortillas and deep-fried. Passable, but not something I’d order again.
The Sizzling Combo my dining partner and the Retiree were enjoying featured a medley of grilled vegetables, topped with a marinated steak and chicken breast. The cheese enchilada was a fortunate addition, giving as it did some relief to the Retiree, who’d mixed her pico di gallo with some jalapeno salsa, making the pico di gallo spicier than our friend was used to.
The Dieter was very pleased with her Veggie Quesadilla, especially the way the grilled vegetables mixed with the melted queso fresca and Monterey jack cheeses. Adding some fresh guacamole didn’t hurt, either.
The Carnivore’s Choriqueso Burrito was another Cali-Mex specialty.
Take a fat handful of tiger shrimp, each as big as your forefinger. Parboil, then peel and place each of them along with some grilled veggies inside a burrito wrap. Enrobe the burrito with choriqueso sauce (the house cheese sauce once again, this time with chunks of spicy chorizo sausage in it) and bake.
A remarkable entree, especially when sided with Ole’s Guacamoles’ habanero salsa. The Carnivore would dip a forkful of burrito into the salsa, place the forkful in his mouth and roll it around in there all unconcerned, while smiling and making “yummy” noises at us.
Delatorre is planning to turn his building’s upstairs into a sports bar complete with a sizable balcony, definitely a good idea. Given the success of Ole’s Guacamoles, Alfredo Delatorre has made sure that Cali-Mex cuisine is here to stay in the Tri-Cities.
1900 South Roan Street
Sun-Thu 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Fri – Sat 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted