Thinking about this assignment I remembered that once someone had told me about a small Mexican restaurant in Redlands that actually served good food and still kept it real. I thought the person was crazy, how the hell could an “Authentic Mexican” restaurant be located in one of the whitest places in the IE? I began to look up reviews on Yelp and found that there were mixed reviews. Some people swore by it, whiles others cursed it. I knew this was going to be the perfect place for me to go. As I pulled into the parking lot I couldn’t help but think about all the negative reviews. But I decided to put all that aside and decide for myself.
I was surprised at the variety of dishes Zabella’s offers. I’m not going to lie; I expected to find the same old dishes that every other place that sells Mexican Food offers. My heart lit up and skipped a beat when I saw that they offered barbacoa. I asked the cashier what type of meat they used to make it and she told me they used beef, which is what I’m accustomed to, although I won’t discriminate against barbacoa made from goat. But back to Zabella’s, they also offer common Mexican food such as tacos, burritos, taquitos, and also some American food in the form of hamburgers and Philly cheese steaks. None of these things called out my name until I found the tortas and realized they served chorizo tortas. My mouth watered as I thought about the chorizo tortas my Tio Nen prepares. I knew I would have to try Zabella’s version as well to compare. Out of the corner of my eye I also saw they offered some soup/stew dishes like Pozole, Menudo, Cocido, and Picadillo. I decided to go with the Menudo since my mom refuses to make it. After I selected my dishes I saw a sign for Margaritas. How could I pass up a special on alcohol? I couldn’t, unfortunately since it was past five o’clock I missed the special but I got one anyways as to not upset my heart.
As I waited for my food I observed some of the other patrons, they were generally older couples probably having an early dinner. This is a laid back type of place, they don’t have anyone who waits on you, yet it is very orderly. They use plastic utensils and paper plates for their lighter dishes and plastic dishes for the more hearty entrees. I felt like I was at my grandma’s house for a second, with the exception that there weren’t any smells of food boiling away on the stove. After about 20 minutes or so the same cashier who took my order brought out my food and my eyes nearly popped out of my skull. Visually the food couldn’t have looked anymore perfect and thus began one of the most pleasurable food experiences I’ve had in a while.
First, I took a sip of the margarita I had ordered. I almost passed out after the first sip. It was so strong I’m almost sure that with that one sip my blood alcohol level surpassed the legal limit. (Note, I did not drive home. Never under any circumstance do I advocate for drunk driving. Please drink responsibly.)
Next up was the barbacoa that I had been so anxious to try. I’ve had this dish numerous times in my life as my family usually prepares it for weddings, baptisms, and parties. As I took the first bite of the barbacoa my high expectations were met. The meat was perfectly braised as it was still firm when I cut into it with my fork but melted in my mouth. The flavors of garlic and cloves weren’t overpowering but still retained their full flavors. Adding to this magical experience was that the meat had hardly any fat. Don’t get me wrong, the fat is what makes the dish good, but I’ve been to parties where I’ve been served huge blobs of fat and been expected to eat it. Not here, what they served me was perfection.
The menudo was up next and while the meat was cooked very well, the broth itself wasn’t as spicy as I would have liked it to have been. Even when I added oregano, red pepper flakes, onions, and cilantro it still didn’t match up to the barbacoa. I gave it one last try and added some Tapatio, which made it somewhat better but not enough to make me want to keep eating. Although I will say once more that the meat was cooked very well. It wasn’t chewy or overcooked. The same goes for the hominy.
Last but not least was the chorizo torta! Visually it looked like something my mom could have prepared. I bit into it and once again was pleasantly surprised. There was a perfect balance of frijoles, chorizo, lettuce, avocado, and mayonnaise. I could go on talking about it but something so simple deserves to be treated with modest praise, otherwise some big franchise might try to imitate it and bastardize it as it has done with so many of my beloved dishes.
Overall, I had a very pleasant dining experience here at Zabella’s. Much better than I was expecting. I would encourage anyone passing the 10 Freeway to give it a try. I will warn you about the salsa, it wasn’t very good but thankfully the food is so good you won’t need to drown your food in salsa! Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t let those negative reviews get to me. I have truly found a gem in the IE. Finally!
Zabella’s Mexican Food
855 Alabama St
Redlands, CA 92324