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Mamacita’s finally opens

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published June 27, 2013 at 3:36 a.m.

mamacitas-mexican-bar-grill-is-at-5923-kavanaugh-blvd-in-little-rock

Mamacita’s Mexican Bar & Grill is at 5923 Kavanaugh Blvd. in Little Rock.

Mamacita's in Little Rock

This slideshow highlights some of the food featured at Mamacita's Mexican restaurant in Little Rock. (By Jennifer Christman)
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The Heights had been anticipating the “coming soon” arrival of Mamacita’s Mexican Bar & Grill - in the former Satellite Cafe/Seoul/Heights Cafe space - since January.

It finally opened. In June.

Is it worth the wait?

We do think the pleasant restaurant has promise and we look forward to seeing its progress. Admittedly, little of what is served there would lure us away from favorites in the area like Cantina Laredo, Casa Manana and La Hacienda. Other Mexican spots in the vicinity include Browning’s Mexican Grill, Canon Grill and newcomer The Fold: Botanas and Bar.

On any of our three visits, we didn’t have to wait to sit inside Mamacita’s. (Yes, inside. Despite the attractive shaded patio outside - a prime Kavanaugh Boulevard see-and-be-seen spot - it was just too hot). Still, business was steady inside the sleek restaurant that is decorated minimally with light wood everywhere - booths, tables, dividers, ceiling - and colorful pottery resting in wall cut-outs.The small space has the same dining room setup as Satellite (somehow this reviewer never made it to the two other restaurants that followed - they weren’t open long enough?), although where there was once a counter is now a full bar with flat screen TV and pendant lighting.

That full bar is happy to provide beer ($3.50 domestic, $3.99 import), tequila ($5-$8), cocktails ($6) and margaritas ($6.50).

I sipped a lime on-the-rocks margarita (I requested frozen, but either they don’t typically make those or they were having equipment difficulties - I had difficulty understanding) and found it a bit bitey yet suitably strong. What made it more potable: the price. Our bill, completed at 7:50 p.m. on a dinner visit, only charged us $4.50 for a “happy margarita.” Happy, indeed! Other options are peach, strawberry, mango and banana.

Meals come with a complimentary basket of standard chips and two small servings of salsa, each pulpy, flavorful and fresh tasting, though with different degrees of spiciness each visit.

The “top shelf” guacamole ($6.99), served too smooth with little presentation, was not particularly appetizing to the taste or sight. We also had a beef with the Queso Mamacita’s ($7.99), a small dish of yellow melted cheese and rather greasy, grainy ground beef.

The most perplexing “apertivo” was the Sky, Surf and Turf Dip ($11.99) - a bowl of sizable grilled shrimp, big chicken and beef strips and soupy cheese sauce that was difficult to share. Served with tortillas, the item was tasty enough, but it was definitely more a dish than a dip. (Even more perplexing: When we ordered this dip, the waitress didn’t understand us, and we didn’t understand that she didn’t understand us. “Guacamole?” she asked. Thinking it was something that came with the dip, we answered, “Yes.” Out came only a bowl of guacamole, and we had to order the dip again.)

Mamacita’s menu, divided into appetizers, specialties, enchiladas, tacos, fajitas and kids selections, is mini compared to other many Mexican restaurants boasting endless combination platters (none of those or a la carte options listed here). Dinner entrees range from $8.99 for three tacos up to $14.99 for Brocheta de Camaron, jumbo shrimp with mushrooms, bell peppers, onion, pineapple chunks and rice.

We were tickled by the Molcajete ($14.50), presented in a giant traditional Mexican bowl with a playful pig face. Served with tortillas, the dish of chicken, beef, carne asada, cactus and onion served over rice that soaked up the zesty sauce over was just as “Delicioso!” as the menu promised.

The Burrito Gigante ($9.99), which extended the length of the platter it was served on, was indeed gigantic. But it did not come with the beans and rice the menu listed … oh, wait, they were hidden inside the steak bundle (chicken is another option) cloaked in cheese sauce. We would have preferred them on the side, and we would have preferred to know we were getting black beans, rather than the expected refried.

The five bacon-and-jalapeno bundled shrimp that made up the Camarones Costa Azul ($13.99) were of a nice size and sweetness/smokiness/ spiciness; a piquant dipping sauce mellowed the char. The shellfish were accompanied by a pile of rice and a squash medley.

The Carnitas ($10.99) featured plentiful chunks of pork, but they were overcooked and under seasoned, with a dryness helped only so much by the small “guacamole salad” of lettuce, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. The plate also included tortillas, refried beans and rice.

For dessert, puffy cinnamon-sugary sopapillas ($5.99), served with ice cream, whipped cream, a chocolate drizzle and maraschino cherries, were perfectly portioned for sharing.

Mamacita’s serves lunch daily 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with plates in the $7.99 to $12.99 range.

The Enchiladas Mexicanas ($8.99) was a satisfactory sampler of four enchiladas, beef, chicken, bean and cheese, although it was too much for lunch, and the beef was the same grainy variety we remembered from the cheese dip.

As for the Camarones a la Diabla ($12.99), a friend reported her large shellfish drenched “in a Razorback red spicy sweet sauce … had just enough heat to make me break a sweat, but not so much that I couldn’t taste the food. Luckily, they kept my beverage full just in case.”

All staff was friendly and efficient about refilling not just drinks, but chips too.

Parking can be a bit tricky, as there are only a few spaces in the restaurant’s petite back lot (where there is still a Satellite Cafe sign on the building), so parallel parking on the busy boulevard might be required.

Another Mamacita’s is also expected to be “coming soon” in the former Los Amigos space at 2850 Prince St., Conway.

Mamacita’s Mexican Bar & Grill

Address: 5923 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Cuisine: Mexican

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 916-2421

Weekend, Pages 31 on 06/27/2013

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