This week, Monica and I met up with our friends Doug and M.C. for a dinner at Las Margaritas at 1101 Hixson Pike. Back in my college days—around 2001-05—a visit to Las Margaritas (Las Mas, as it’s known) was an essential part of the week. The climb back down the stairs was a bit shaky, but we always had a good time.
Of course, you can’t talk about Las Margaritas without mentioning an incident in the alleyway almost two years ago to the day. But that’s the last I’ll mention of it.
The Riverview area of Hixson Pike has exploded with new restaurants like The Daily Ration, Il Primo and old staples like Tremont Tavern. The small shopping complex where Las Mas has been for years is looking a bit rundown as of late. Several storefronts adjacent to the restaurant are abandoned while everything surrounding the block has seen excessive growth. If you didn’t know Las Mas was there you might never find it. Fortunately, we did. Up the steps and there it is.
Las Mas has four distinct seating areas to choose from. It all depends on your mood. Dining with a few friends? Eat in the right dining hall underneath a canopy of piñatas. Alone? Walk up the steps and sit at the aerial bar. Partying with eight of your closest friends and sharing pitcher-fulls of margaritas, perpetually getting louder and more obnoxious as the night goes on? Sit on the porch out back. Awkward date? Sit side-by-side at the totally bizarre half-moon tables downstairs. You have options, is what I’m trying to say.
We sat at a perfectly reasonable four-top near the entrance under a neon yellow donkey piñata. In my experience, the service has always been quick and pleasant at the restaurant. Many of the employees are faces I’ve recognized for years and the atmosphere — weird as it may be — is familiar and inviting. I also appreciate the simple menu (only a few pages) that hasn’t changed much throughout the years. Nothing has really changed at Las Mas. Maybe that’s what I like about it.
As is tradition, Monica ordered a margarita on the rocks and I got a frozen margarita. How can you not have a margarita at Las Margaritas? It translates to “The Margaritas.” Doug and M.C. stuck with water. M. C. is currently pregnant and, according to what she’s read, tequila and simple syrup are not great for the baby. Who knew?! Our margaritas were good — better than your typical margarita. I think the ratio of tequila to syrup is better here than other places. I managed to avoid the terrible heartburn that usually accompanies a margarita night. I’m not in college anymore.
Las Mas was not very crowded at all when we arrived but by the middle part of our meal the restaurant was picking up some traffic (mostly families with children). The table was collectively having difficulty figuring out what to eat, so we got a queso dip and ate some chips while we made up our minds. I was a tad disappointed in our cheese dip. It was the consistency of water and slid off the chips like … well … water. The flavor was fine, but I need a little bit of gooey to my cheese dip. Otherwise, it’s just cheese-flavored water.
Again, the menu is wonderful. It’s just 4-pages long and has everything you could ever want. I’m not sure why other Mexican restaurants need a 10-page menu. Maybe it’s for the pictures? There are no pictures of flaming burritos and molcajete pigs on the Las Mas menu. It’s a classy display and I appreciate the simplicity.
We made up our minds and ordered food. Monica got a chicken taco salad without guacamole (she’s allergic to avocados) and I ordered a combination No. 11 (a chili relleno, enchilada and tostada). Doug had a steak burrito as big as his already big head. M.C. had the arroz con pollo with extra veggies for, you know, the baby.
I’m the type of guy that could close my eyes and pick from the combination suggestions and be happy. The food here has such a nostalgic appeal to me from our days spent wasting away in a margarita haze on the porch. Although I don’t visit as often as I did back then I’m pleased nothing has changed. There were no awkward dates in the half-moon seats on this night. That and the watery cheese dip were the only disappointments of our experience.
I believe the owner’s name is “Cookie,” at least that’s what the web is telling me. As she has after every visit for years, she asked how our meal was. I said it was “wonderful” (because it was) and I signed our check. Per tradition, I also asked Cookie to exchange a dollar for quarters to put in the gumball machine on the way out. Las Mas is one of the only places I purchase gumballs. I’m not sure why.
My experience at other Las Margaritas in the region is limited. I cannot speak to what your experience will be like at those locations. However, I highly recommend a visit (or a return visit) to this Las Mas location. Watch your step on the way out. The stairs tend to run together after a few margaritas. Anyway, go visit Las Mas. It’s weird and fun like it always has been.
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