El Patron Mexican Grill & Cantina in Salisbury, North Carolina
I mentioned I love Mexican food (and lived down in Dallas, TX), and one of my college students told me that I had to check out El Patron. I'd never heard of the restaurant or seen it, and I've lived here all my life. That's one thing I love about college kids. They check out all the nooks and crannies.
You can Google and GPS El Patron. The address is 1030 Freeland Drive, Salisbury, NC. If you're from the Salisbury area, then just go down and turn to go to Wal-Mart. Then, turn left instead of right where you see Cracker Barrel. There is the mall-ette you see above on your left behind a gas station. There in the bend (with the flags) you will find El Patron. I'd also note that the restaurant is right off I85 on the Salisbury exit where you see Lowe's. Turn toward Salisbury and not toward Albemarle and go to the Bojangles and turn and go up to the Wal-Mart turn light.
The guys and I decided we had to go and see if El Patron was as good as my student said, so we loaded up in the SUV and went to town (a half hour haul for us).
El Patron looks like a fun place. It is!
The decor in El Patron is really cute. I can see why the college kids would enjoy going. It's bright with pretty painted wall murals and well . . . just a lot of personality. They do serve drinks, but it's a family friendly restaurant. There were quite a few kids when we visited, and El Patron was comfortable and good for all ages.
We felt welcome from the time we walked in. I still have to smile about our server. She said, "Is this your first time?" We told her it was. She smiled and said, "Mine too." I love honesty. Another server and the owner both checked behind her several times, and she was spot on. If I had a restaurant, I'd hire her in a heartbeat.
Free Chips, Salsa and Pica de Gallo for Starters
As is the custom in most Mexican restaurants, we were given chips to start off. They were perfectly fried - thin, crisp, and hot. In this area, some restaurants offer salsa and some offer Pica de Gallo. At El Patron, they brought out both. And, they were homemade fresh. In both categories, they are the best in the area. You can see what I'm talking about above.
My youngest son is a cheese freak, so we always order what he calls "cheese dip" (queso). The price was higher than typical for this area, but the bowl was about double the size. He usually goes through two bowels of his cheese dip minimum, but he only needed one at El Patron, so that actually ended up being lighter on my wallet.
On that first visit we had enchiladas, carne asada, and quesadillas. I hope I'm getting my Spanish spellings right. Mrs. Turney tried very hard in high school, but I did not excel in language class.
Quesadillas are not actually on the menu. They had no problem making those for my son (cheese freak). He ordered both a cheese and cheese/beef quesadilla. He is a college kid, and he could not even eat half the order, and they did not charge an arm and a leg. I don't think his special order was any higher than our menu plate orders. I'm not a huge quesadilla fan, but I tried a slice of his beef quesadilla, and it was the best I've had (yes - better than the ones I make at home - sad to confess).
You can see my son's quesadillas from today. This is just one, since he figured out that he couldn't eat two last time. He went with beef, and this is the only place in town where he'll eat meat on the quesadillas. The quality on the meat is just better. Remember - I tried a piece too on the first visit. So, I did check behind my son, although he's a natural born foodie.
Beef and Cheese Quesadillas at El Patron
After our first meal at El Patron, I was pretty pumped up and wanted to share this "new find" (which is actually a couple of years old). Generally, I just review barbecue joints, so I thought I'd write a review at Yelp where I note I don't get paid a cent. I just add a review there every once in a blue moon when I think I can help. I will, as I do here, tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yelp seems to like the "ugly" reviews.
To my surprise, Yelp had El Patron listed as 2 stars and had "ugly" reviews up. OK. Different people like different things, and perhaps some day are better than others at a restaurant. It did strike me as odd though.
I spent about an hour writing up our experience at El Patron. I thought people should hear another voice on this wonderful little sleeper in town. But, to my shock, Yelp opted to block my review (first time ever). You need an account and must be signed in to see the blocks. I clicked to see what was going on, and Yelp blocked about 15 positive reviews on El Patron and posted up the negative reviews and only rated on those reviews.
After doing some research online, I found that other writers were noting that Yelp was selling ad spaces. Pay up, and your good review go up and bad ones (or most of them) get hidden. Don't "pay the lady" and you get racked like El Patron. Well, that stinks!
Yelp argues that they have an algorithm that catches "cheaters." Come on. Even Google can't get algorithm right. You think Yelp has a sophisticated one? Excuse me while I laugh. I "liked" El Patron on Facebook and told them what was going on with the Yelp ratings. They called Yelp and were told that it appeared employees were writing fake positive reviews. I call foul ball. I've been a writer for over 30 years, and I do not work at El Patron. In fact, I did even know they existed before the night I wrote the review they put in the deep freeze.
In any case, I did want folks to know that El Patron is a great place. I went back today in the middle of the afternoon with a camera. I identified myself as the writer who had been in touch. I had the same great service and fabulous food as before and had a chance to take some photos without disturbing customers or workers.
Today I had fajitas. I guess we can count those as grilled. Flat top. Hot heat. They were excellent, and the tortillas were fresh, soft, and hot and in a nice container that kept them that way. Here is my lunch.
Fajitas. Notice that the vegetables are fresh here and not mushy like some places.
My side dishes were excellent as well. I always like rice. What's not to like. I spice mine up with the salsa. Normally I'm not a refried bean fan, but I really did like these. They had a little more heat and were not mushy like many I've had. I was also impressed with the plating on the beans, and the little shell cup added some crunch which made the beans better for me. If El Patron went on the TV show Chopped, they'd beat the other local Mexican restaurants, for sure, on plating.
Refried Beans and Mexican Rice with my Favorite Guacamole on the SideYes. I did enjoy my meal. And, yes, I did pay for my meal. Usually I don't mention that I'm a reviewer and blogger. I don't want special treatment. I want to see the real deal so that I can write up fair reviews. In this case, I arrived with a camera during the off hours, and I had been in touch on Facebook. My server was the grandson. I'd met the grandfather the first visit as he checked the table on his new server. And, the father also came out to say hello today. So, in this rare case, it made sense to introduce myself. Otherwise, they might have been wise to have called the police to report a strange woman on the premises.
Cyndi Eating at El Patron in Salisbury, North Carolina
As we were ready to leave, we were surprised with free dessert. I rated these guys five stars at Yelp on the first visit, so they didn't have to do anything extra to impress me. But, I must say the fried cheese cake (Xango) was fabulous. I usually don't have room for dessert, and I really didn't. But, I made an exception. This was a great dessert.
Cyndi Getting Her Xango On
I have to show you a close up of the fried cheese cake. The cheese cake was wrapped in the burritos and fried. Then, there was cinnamon and sugar on the outside and chocolate. Also - ice cream and whipped cream.
Yum. Fried Cheese Cake is Really, Really Good
I would not have thought to order Xango, but I'm glad I got to share that with my son. We both loved it. We also have a super cheesecake fan in the family, so I know where his birthday dinner will be this next year. He'll go wild for Xango.
My son and I had a great afternoon eating at El Patron's and getting a chance to talk to staff when things weren't busy. This is a family business, and they are doing a top notch job. The food does have am American slant, but it's creative, and it does capture the spirit and fun of the original cuisine. It's also fresh, hot, and well prepared. The service is terrific. They also cater. What more could you ask for?
Well, I guess I could break out the guitar and sing a happy song. So, here you go . . .
Cyndi Singing Praises for El Patron in Salisbury, North Carolina
If you're in the or near the Salisbury area, I'd highly recommend checking out El Patron. I don't put my name down, unless I mean it. Count me a fan. Headed back soon.