Doña Pepa Mexican Restaurant
Whip it good
By Jennifer Wohletz
“What do you put in this stuff, crack?!” I asked restaurant co-owner Hector Alcarez while peering at the ice left at the bottom of my glass.
“It’s drugs, maybe,” he chuckled, scooping up my glass and refilling it with Bang brand piña colada.
No actual drugs here, just my own gluttonous lust to suck down as much of the whipped aguas fresca as possible. The first time I discovered Doña Pepa Mexican Restaurant was by accident one day when I was on my way home, famished, and looking for a nice plate of beef tacos and cheese enchiladas. The place is tucked into an unobtrusive strip mall on Eubank between a nail salon and a smoke shop.
I walked in and the place was packed, but co-owner Helen Alcarez took my carryout order and treated me pretty darn good while I waited. We had fun chatting. I had ordered the No. 3: beef taco, two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans ($6.95), and the “Super Douper” deluxe burrito with beef ($5.85). I also asked for a small drink while I waited, and she recommended I try the aguas frescas. I chose from horchata, orange, melon and the beloved piña colada Bang. The drink came from an inauspicious machine in the corner, and I could hear the soft “wrrrrr” of the little spout, whipping my beverage into a smooth, frothy goodness.
I drained the little Styrofoam cup in about a minute, and Helen watched me stare into my bare ice, despondent over how fast that went down. She gave me a free refill. I imagine this is how they lure you in—good game plan.
I was initially pleased with the cheap prices and the quality of the ground beef. It was well-seasoned, not too fatty and filled with little bits of cooked potato to add to the consistency. The burrito was frickin’ huge: This thing had to have weighed more than a pound. I especially liked the fact that homemade guacamole was a liberal garnish, with no upcharge. They also obviously dumped a bucket of red and green chile over the top, and they weren’t skimpy with the melted cheese and sour cream, either.
I returned for lunch recently, and this time I ordered a beef taco, two beef enchiladas, rice and beans ($6.95), chicken fajitas ($7.25) and a chile relleno ($2.55). And, of course, the biggest piña colada Bang they had ($2.25). My dining companion deviated and got a large orange Bang instead, but I took a sip and made an injured bat face. I’m a freak—I can’t stand anything that tastes like a dreamsicle. The combination of orange and vanilla makes my heart sad, but I know I’m in the minority on this.
He soon regretted his choice. He quickly sucked his drink down, and began eyeballing mine. I began to protectively hug my cup closer and closer to my torso.
The meal took a little longer than last time, but still within the 20-minute safe zone. I didn’t care for the relleno. It was too eggy on the outside and lacked enough cheese on the inside. The green chile was legit, though, and the red chile was dark and peppery, and had a good texture and mild-to-medium warmth.
The fajitas weren’t bad. The tricolored bell peppers were done just right, the onions were caramelized and sweet, the chicken was marinated with a hint of lime. Again, I loved the guacamole because it was smooth, vegetative and not a pricey side order.
My tacos didn’t disappoint me the second time around, either. The fresh-fried white corn shell was crammed with thick, richly seasoned beef, filled with creamy bites of potato, and plenty of shredded lettuce and cheese. The enchiladas were chubby and saucy, and its side of beans was creamy and adequately cheesed. I even ate all my rice, which I sometimes skip to avoid that carb-overdone gut bust at the end of a meal. The rice was slightly overcooked, but had a fine salty tomato flavor.
The interior of the restaurant is nondescript and filled with idiosyncratic knickknacks like a Raiders helmet on the wall about an alcove. I did notice, however, that there were a few modest reviews from various publications carefully clipped and framed. These are nice people with a fun and inexpensive little eatery, so I was glad to be adding another review to the wall.
I asked Hector about the hours on the door—I’d stopped by a couple of times and they were closed. He told me they just switched to new hours, due more to economic pressure than seasonal considerations.
“I need to pay my bills!” he laughed and threw his hands up into the air.
I’ll keep helping him pay the light bill—and I got my piña colada Bang fix, too. I’ll be back. I’m a good, loyal addict.
The Alibi Recommends:
• Piña colada Bang
• The two-enchilada plate with a taco
• Hector says, “Definitely the super deluxe burrito!”
Doña Pepa Mexican Restaurant, 1301 Eubank NE, 291-9713. Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat 11 a.m.-3 p.m., closed Sun. Price range: inexpensive. No smoking, no booze, credit cards accepted.
4th of July Appetizers and Healthy Dinners Cooking Workshop at The Studio Space
Free Coffee Tasting at Prosum Roasters
ABQ Food Fridays at Harry E. Kinney Civic PlazaMore Recommented Events ››