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story.lead_photo.caption Three Tacos al Pastor are a reasonable $5 at Three Amigo's Restaurante on Cantrell Road in Little Rock. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

We're not sure just who the three amigos are at Three Amigo's Restaurante, but it's certainly as friendly as the name suggests.

We're told that the folks running it represent a different branch of the same family that operated Lupita's Original Mexican Food, the previous occupant of the two storefronts in the Cantrell Road strip center just west of Mississippi Street. (Need a landmark? It's almost directly across Cantrell from the McDonald's.) Former occupants of the space include Route 66, Burger Mama's, a Quiznos and a Japanese restaurant, Eastern Flames. Lupita's actually lasted there for about five years.

Three Amigo’s Restaurante

Address: 7710 Cantrell Road, Little Rock

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday

Cuisine: Mexican

Credit cards: V, MC, D

Take-out: Yes

Wheelchair access: Yes

(501) 420-0052

facebook.com/ThreeAmigosRestauranteLR

The new restaurant still faces the principal drawback that has bedeviled all the others in that space: Turning into, and especially turning out of, the narrow parking lot from and onto busy Cantrell Road about a block and a half from the very busy Mississippi Street/Keightly Drive intersection can be a nightmare. Spencer Watson, in a 2013 review of Lupita's in this paper, characterized it as "a test of patience or a game of chicken, depending on your driving philosophy." Verdad, si claro.

The name change is pretty much the main transformation; the physical layout is pretty much the same — booths along the front windows and east side, tables in the middle with roll-away, orange-painted, padded wooden chairs; a bar in the back; a handful of big-screen TVs, showing sports and movies with one displaying pretty pictures of the food.

The menu is still small, compared to most area Mexican and Mexican-style restaurants: three pages of "antojitos" (starters), salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos, chimichangas, seafood and street tacos. And if you look closely, it still offers pretty much the same dishes, right down to the ones still named "Lupita's" or "Lupitas," including a Enchiladas Lupitas, Lupita's Nachos, Lupita's Chimi, Lupita's Burger and Lupitas Platillo.

The food is good, and, as is the way of Mexican restaurants, comes out of the kitchen super-fast. Service couldn't be better, except that we did have trouble on a busy weekend night getting somebody's attention to obtain small needs such as extra napkins.

Chips and three salsas -- (clockwise from left) nacho cheese dip, chipotle and habanero -- hit the table not long after customers do at Three Amigo's. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison
Chips and three salsas -- (clockwise from left) nacho cheese dip, chipotle and habanero -- hit the table not long after customers do at Three Amigo's. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

Just after you sit down, a staff member — so far we've seen only the one waitress but management and kitchen staff all pitch in — drops onto the table a bowl of crisp, thinnish tortilla chips and three salsas in small bowls — a yellow, surprisingly un-clotted nacho cheese dip; a thin but effective chipotle (marked as an a la carte item on the menu with one pepper); and a slightly brick-colored habanero that merits all three menu peppers, its fiery impact felt mostly on the back of the tongue and in the throat. (It was too hot even for Intrepid Companion, who likes hers spicy, so you can guess just how fiery that impact is.)

Three Amigo's Guacamole de la Casa is fresh and onion-y. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison
Three Amigo's Guacamole de la Casa is fresh and onion-y. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

A white queso is available ($4 medium, $7 large), and we would have tried it — we ordered it but the waitress, overworked on that weekend night dealing with a party of a couple of dozen others, forgot to bring it. (She also forgot to charge us for it.) The fresh, flavorful and somewhat onion-y Guacamole de la Casa (also $4 medium, $7 large) was a worthwhile substitute. We were intrigued by, but will save for a return visit, the 12-inch Mexican Pizza ($7.99), choice of meat with beans, salsa, lettuce, pico de gallo and cheese. (The menu photo, including the optional $2 avocado, is very enticing.)

Enchiladas Supreme consists of three enchiladas with a wide choice of protein -- in this case, cheese, fajita chicken and chorizo -- at Three Amigo's Restaurante. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison
Enchiladas Supreme consists of three enchiladas with a wide choice of protein -- in this case, cheese, fajita chicken and chorizo -- at Three Amigo's Restaurante. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

Best bet among the entrees turned out to be the Enchiladas Supreme ($9.99), three enchiladas filled with the diner's choice of protein, and not just the limited steak, chicken and cheese you'll get at most places, but anything the kitchen offers, including the zippy house chorizo sausage, which was a great success. We also enjoyed the cheese, which melted into just the right, slightly stringy consistency, and the fajita-style chicken, in strips, not shreds.

Chicken, steak, chorizo and shrimp are the four meats in the 4 Meat Lupita's Fajitas at Three Amigo's Restaurante. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison
Chicken, steak, chorizo and shrimp are the four meats in the 4 Meat Lupita's Fajitas at Three Amigo's Restaurante. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Eric E. Harrison

The four meats in the 4-Meat Lupita's Fajitas ($17.99) turned out to be chicken and steak, which we expected; chorizo; and — surprise — shrimp. It was certainly tasty, but trying to scoop the meat from the sizzling skillet onto our three excellent, fresh flour tortillas (the $1.25 up-charge for extra tortillas would certainly have been worthwhile) was rather messy with just a fork — a large spoon or a spatula would have worked better. Oh, and the shrimp came with tail-shells intact, which was even messier. (Why do restaurants do that — leave the tails on shrimp in sauces and soups? That's a recent trend we very much wish would go away.) Some of the beef strips were overcooked and a bit tough. We also would have liked to have more sour cream than the tiny dollop that came on the separate plate with lettuce, pico de gallo, rice and beans. The orange-y Mexican rice is subtly flavored but not bland. The beans are whole, not paste, and come in a slightly tangy, slightly soupy fluid.

Three Amigo's street tacos come on small corn tortillas, generously topped with meat and even more generously with onions and cilantro. At $2 apiece, three for $5, they're not cheap but they are reasonably priced. Our choice of the tacos al pastor (roasted pork) met with our waitress' approval — they're her favorite — but we were slightly disappointed in their relative blandness and lack of a citric dimension to the flavor (al pastor is often marinated with, and served with, pineapple chunks, but we didn't see or taste that here). We could have done with fewer diced onions. Other options include spicy chorizo, ground beef, carne asada, pollos and carnitas, plus, for slightly more ($4 each, three for $10), fish, shrimp and the Tacos Alambre, topped with carne asada, pico, grilled onions and mushrooms. Add rice and beans for $3.75.

You can find four burgers and a BLT on the "Gringo Grill" menu; there's also a handful of offerings for los ninos.

Three Amigo's serves beer in bottles and on tap; soft drinks include fountain sodas, iced tea and Mexican sodas (Jarritos and Coke) in half-liter bottles. Our Mexican Coke came with a frosted goblet full of ice, which helped stretch out the drink (so we didn't need to order a second one) and made the whole process of drinking it so much more civilized than swigging it out of the bottle.

Weekend on 05/23/2019

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