A couple of years ago, Andrade's moved from its adobe colored former home on Broadway Ave. to its current Bench location near the corner of Overland Rd. and Orchard St. Owner Javier Andrade's namesake eatery now resides where a restaurant known for "bunch-of-lunch" used to sit.
Andrade's American-palate-friendly menu appeals to members of my extended family (several of whom are picky eaters and were huge fans of the previous resident), so Andrade's is the first choice for birthday dinners. Though the menu holds some exotic surprises like the huachinango al chingo de ajo (red snapper in garlic and butter) and the machacachaca chacachaca (dry shredded steak, tomatoes and eggs), quesadillas, taco combos and beef enchiladas are the draw for my clan.
For me, Andrade's ceviche has become as regular a summertime refreshment as an ice-cold Arnold Palmer. It was chilly out the day a coworker and I went to Andrade's for lunch, but my anticipation of warmer weather and fondness for the dish guaranteed it would be part of our midday repast.
The ceviche appetizer (small, $7.95) bumped my yen for warmer weather to a yearning. The seafood, cilantro, tomato, onion and citrus played nicely with each other under broad green slices of ripe avocado. I imagined me, the ceviche and a frosty margarita whiling away an August evening, a pleasant fantasy in the midst of this seemingly endless cold weather. The only complaints were that the bright white chunks of shrimp were on the small side and the corn tostada upon which the marinated fish and veggies rested was soggy. A tostada on the side, or an accompanying basket of crisp corn chips would have solved that problem.
We worked our way through a gratis basket of chips, salsa and warm bean dip and the ceviche, both doing what appetizers should do: they whetted our appetites.
My friend's chile relleno ($6.95) and my Especial de Javier No. 1 ($7.45) were accompanied by refried beans and rice, both of which were visually unappealing and didn't knock us over in the flavor department either. These ubiquitous Boise Mexican restaurant sides often do little more than provide justification for a $7- to $10-per-plate price tag. On the way to our table when we arrived, I spied two big food service bags of peas and carrot cubes, and I commented to my date, sotto voce, that I didn't want to see them in my meal. I should have mentioned it out loud to the chef. The lukewarm beige beans and dry orange rice with the aforementioned peas and carrots would have detracted more detrimentally from the meal had our entrees been less mouthwatering. Instead, they were merely relegated to the edges of our plates and ignored.
The chile relleno was soft and tangy, an oozing river of melted cheese bursting through the green chile's skin. Allowed but a small bite from my hungry pal, I made a note to order it for myself on my next visit. Two small soft flour tortillas (that were sadly not homemade) covered in a thin, crispy layer of cheese made the foundation of the especial with chewy, spicy hunks of carne asada and fried onions and green peppers. I restrained from eating both and was pleased with my decision when, later that afternoon, I answered a hunger pang with leftovers that reheated nicely.
Punxatawney Phil poked his head out, which means warm weather is still a few weeks out, but with a trip to Andrade's, I can pretend it's summer until it gets here.
—Amy Atkins will soon be complaining about how hot it is outside.
Things hide in a burrito. Flavors are pushed to the center, displaced to the opposite periphery by mundane rice. Tasty morsels are dulled by a 360-degree flour encasement.
One benefit of the taco over the burrito: In a bite, you get the full natural history of your meal. The taco is a wide open affair, tough to overstuff and fully accessible to any adult-sized mouth.
In a bite, Andrade's Especial de Javier, a set of three larger-than-normal tacos, delivered a lemony avocado face rub, then a mild pico de gallo love tap and then—this was a slow first bite—a tender enough chunk of grilled steak that I could see running up the remaining 66 yards of the tortilla.
And then the buds backtracked a minute, hitting on another sensation, the thing that held it all together: a warm, soft flour tortilla of intelligent heft—thin enough to allow the innards to shine while not too thin to tear mid-feed.
For several years now, I have eschewed flour tortillas, thinking of corn tortillas as more authentic. But Andrade's reminded me that there is nothing wrong with a flour tortilla. It need not be a glutinous European import, particularly when loaded with the above-mentioned combo of Javier's invention.
My surprise at the dish was compounded by the fact that I did not intend to order tacos at all. Andrade's is a sit-down Mexican restaurant, apparently popular with Bench Gringos. It claims on the menu to be "The Other Face of Mexico" and a sign on the facade boasts, "Our competition is in Mexico."
So I intended to order a meal that would reveal the joint's true colors. The menu is full of double entendres and dishes that appear to be original creations or, at least, clever variations on classic Mexican restaurant fare.
The pollo cheestoso. A meatball plate. Fish or shrimp al chingo de ajo.
This last dish, the camarones al chingo de ajo ($13.45), I foisted upon my lovely wife, who just wanted a taco.
Let's just say Javier must buy a chingo-load of ajo, because these crisp prawns cured us of about three different colds and altered the heretofore declining role of green peppers in my life.
The garlic and butter did something chemical and wonderful to the green peppers that I've never had done before. There were little bits of mushroom in that fry pan as well.
The waiters and hosts, who are very attentive but not annoying, sat us in a corner booth, which would have been romantic were it just the two of us. They brought a water pitcher to the table and Tecate in bottles ($3.75) and the requisite chips and salsa and refried beans.
I was so busy steering my family clear of the basic combination plates that when my turn came to order, I did a thing that I never do. I asked for advice on the abundant steak selection.
The waiter pointed me to the Especial de Javier ($11.95, medium available at $9.95), which came with a side of nicely roasted and slightly cheesed "Mexican potatoes."
And it turned out to be a plate of tacos, which I generously shared around the table in exchange for a couple of hits on the chingo de ajo and a sampling of the kid's enchilada plate ($3.75), enhanced with green salsa from the salsa bar.
Andrade's feels like a Boise institution, though I don't really know its history. It's one of those crossover restaurants that brings new foodstuffs to the American culinary hinterland through butter and garlic, fresh ingredients and a little class.
As we loaded everyone back into the car, I thought about the Mexican street food that is a staple in my diet, and for a few minutes, I didn't miss it.
—Nathaniel Hoffman's culinary albondigas will go for cheestoso if there's a chingo de ajo involved.