It's hard to believe that the year-old Cinco de Mayo restaurant at Ustick near Five Mile is really La Casa del Chile Relleno. Walk into the condescendingly festive restaurant and you are greeted by blaring mariachi trumpets (on a stereo) and decor out of a bad spring-break-in-Cancun movie (Coronita ads, streamers, sombreros everywhere).
The space has potential. A tiki bar in the back serves beer and wine and the pleasant dining room is calm and comfortable. Also, this corner of Boise, while far from a destination, appears to be a busy hub of activity to which Cinco de Mayo definitely adds a little variety. Delsa's Ice Cream Parlor is up the street, as are a motorcycle parts shop dedicated to the owners' late cats, about 20 churches and an Albertsons and Walgreens like at every other major intersection in town.
So Cinco de Mayo is a pioneering, family-owned restaurant venture here. But the dime-a-dozen Americanized Jaliscan fare, particularly on the lunch combo menu, did not match the heady feelings inspired by stepping into a restaurant to a herald of mariachi theme music.
Case in point, the tamal was dry and salty, flaws partly masked by the streams of melted cheese and enchilada sauce imparted by the paired enchilada ($5.95).
A better bet--as the waitress steered us on our first visit--is to order one of the specials off the main menu. Though more expensive, the kitchen will spend a little more time assembling your plate. To get the lay of the land, I ordered Los Tres Chiles ($13.95), a huge plate of red and green chile dishes separated down the middle by a honking chile relleno.
I tore into that bulbous middle section first. The pepper was stuffed with ample, well-melted cheese, but the breading in which it was deep-fried was a bit tough. Topped with more cheeses and mixed with either the red or green chile to either side, the relleno holds its own.
The green chile had a really unique, slightly hot tomatillo flavor which I spooned up, with or without the pieces of pork it complemented. The colorado was not as complex, but still yielded a spicy, ruddy beef.
The champion, however, was the tortillero of warm, hand-made tortillas that came with the chiles. Someone in the back was forming those thick corn tortillas by hand just for me, and I really appreciated it. A proper tortilla takes care of whatever goes inside, and these guys enveloped each of my chiles, moderating the salt and enhancing the textures of the meat.
While I won't dub Cinco the house of the chile relleno in the Treasure Valley, they seem to have at least matched the Mexican food equation that many southwest Idaho gringos crave. I'd prefer they push the boundaries more, but for the corner of Five Mile and Ustick, perhaps they already have.
--Nathaniel Hoffman carries his notebook and pen in a guitar case, just in case.
Boise Weekly sends two reviewers to every restaurant we review. Read what our other reviewer had to say about Cinco de Mayo.