Many people who work in downtown Little Rock have patronized Cotija’s Mexican Grill.
Their original location at 406 S. Louisiana St. is a good option for lunch because the prices are reasonable and the service is speedy. And, the cheese dip is muy bueno. So, when a new downtown location - in the Legacy Hotel on Capitol Avenue - opened, a visit was in order.
Unlike Cotija’s other downtown restaurant, only open for lunch and serving no alcohol, the hotel Cotija’s is open for dinner and has a full bar, with happy hour specials (4-7 p.m. domestic drafts are $2; imports, margaritas and wine are $3).
The restaurant had been open only four days when my son and I headed over for dinner around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, and thankfully, traffic was relatively light in that part of downtown.
The parking lot is on the east side of the building, close to Cotija’s door, and there’s a small, festively painted outdoor patio area that has a few tables scattered around. Being July in Arkansas, the outdoor area was not in use when we got there.
Upon entering, we were told to seat ourselves, so we took a fast look around and took a table in the right side of the L-shaped room. We weaved around a table of what seemed to be co-workers enjoying happy hour, to sit at a smaller table.
There is a bar on the left side of the room that backs the kitchen wall where several were also enjoying drinks.
The maroon-and-blue patterned carpeting screams hotel restaurant, and the decorative parts of the room are understated and minimal. It’s nothing like the decor at the Louisiana location, which is bright and colorful. Maybe they are more concerned with getting the restaurant up and running, and serving good food. Can’t fault them for that.
The tables and chairs, made of smooth, dark wood, are sturdy and comfortable. There are several tables suited for larger groups, so unless they are jammed, seating shouldn’t be a big issue.
A man who I recognized from the Louisiana location came over to take our drink orders, left salsa and chips, and handed us menus - the same ones used at the other location.
The menu isn’t extensive, but offers a nice selection that includes the standards, like quesadillas, tacos, enchiladas, fajitas and burritos.
We started with small orders of cheese dip and guacamole ($3.99). We had a hard time deciding what entrees to share, so we looked to our waiter for advice. He recommended the Combo Brochetas ($10.49) - grilled chicken, steak, shrimp and chorizo that’s topped with cheese and served with rice, beans and tortillas.
While we waited for our meal, we snacked on chips, dip and guacamole, remarking on their flavor. The thick, rich white cheese dip had two or three small slivers of jalapeno mixed in, but it wasn’t too spicy. Without the seeds, the peppers added just a hint of heat. The guacamole seemed homemade and was seasoned well, but every so often, I’d get a bit of something a little spicier than I like.
I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious our entree looked. We were going to share off the big plate, but our server brought two plates without us asking, and that was nice. The beef and chicken were tender and lightly seasoned so that the flavor of the meat came through. The smallish shrimp were tender and plump, and the chorizo added a nice kick.
The rice was a little bland, but the beans were really good. Unlike some beans that are grayish and almost runny, these had a chunky texture with a few shreds of cheese melted on top.
A second visit about two weeks later found the restaurant a bit emptier, but the friendly fellow holding down the fort made us feel right at home. Our group of four sat near the bar, ordered beverages and hunkered down to peruse the menu.
We shared a large cheese dip so my mother and nephew could try it, and it was delicious as usual.
I wanted the brochetas again but chose some other dishes. My son and I decided to try the Bistec a la Mexicana ($8.49) and two beef tostadas ($3.99). Mom went for Camarones de Ajillo ($10.39), made with shrimp, garlic and chili peppers sauteed in a buttery sauce. She was afraid the peppers would make it too spicy, so our server assured her the peppers would be left out. Nephew ordered beef fajitas ($8.49), which also come with rice, beans and tortillas.
We laughed, we talked, we dipped and we chipped for less than 10 minutes before our food arrived. The tostadas came out first with a plate for sharing, soon followed by the other dishes.
Tostadas have been a favorite at Cotija’s, and these were exceptional. I prefer ordering them a la carte, because if you order one as part of a meal, it is plated with beans and the tostada shell is often soggy before the plate hits the table. Even five minutes after arriving,the shell was still crunchy. The well-seasoned ground beef had onions and peppers mixed in, and soft shredded cheese was sprinkled on top.
The Bistec a la Mexicana had plenty of tender beef for two. The dish is made with grilled sirloin (chicken is an option) topped with a slice of grilled onion and served with rice, beans and tortillas. Mother’s mouth-watering Camarones de Ajillo contained a heap of small pink shrimp with garlic and sides of rice and beans.
My nephew made quick work of his fajitas, too, but I snagged a piece of beef which was just as good as our dish.
Even though we swore we were full, we decided to try dessert. I wanted sopapillas, but our server said that since the business is new and the clientele still a bit sparse, they were not yet making sopapillas because they didn’t want to waste dough with not enough people to order them. The one dessert was Bunuelitos ($3.99), so we went with that.
It wasn’t long before we were served a plate piled high with fried tortilla strips drizzled with butterscotch and chocolate sauce. The server also provided a squeeze bottle of the chocolate sauce, which was well used. For such a simple dish, the Bunuelitos were amazingly delicious. Of course you have to use your fingers, but a little chocolate sauce never hurt anyone.
Cotija’s Mexican Grill
Address: Legacy Hotel, 625 W. Capitol Ave., Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday Cuisine: Mexican Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 371-0733
Weekend, Pages 38 on 08/15/2013
Print Headline: Cotija’s plates up another downtown location