Restaurateur Javier Andrade has celebrated much success at his namesake restaurant on Broadway in Boise since 2001.
People come in droves for the self-serve fresh salsa bar and homespun specialties from Michoacan — Andrade's home state in Mexico.
He branched out last summer by opening another location, in a strip mall along a bustling stretch of Fairview Avenue in Meridian.
The menu at both spots lists lots of traditional tacos, enchiladas, torta sandwiches and carnitas.
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Andrade's in Meridian has a similar salsa bar. Expect to see everything from pico de gallo to salsa verde to a fiery habanero puree.
The small dining room boasts warm colors and folksy murals. A shaded patio (gurgling water feature included) offers diners reprieve from the hot sun.
Andrade does a good job of finding friendly people to wait tables at his restaurants.
Evidently sourpusses don't last long.
One night, we grabbed a table (with cracked mosaic tiles) and were greeted by an extremely friendly server, dressed in black, like all the servers.
Right off, we started with cold bottles of Pacifico beer ($3.50) and zopes ($8.95/also called sopes), which were thick pillows of fragrant, grilled masa harina smothered with smoky strips of fork-tender steak, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, crumbled cotija cheese and a large dollop of sour cream.
Our server instinctively split the zopes onto two plates. We didn't even have to ask her!
After nibbling on gratis tortilla chips and chunky salsa roja (plus other variations from the salsa bar), we received grande plates of chicken mole ($9.45) and rellenos mi amore ($9.95).
Andrade's smashes 27 ingredients into its mysteriously delicious mole sauce.
Tender pieces of pollo came swimming in a dark and peppery sauce, with subtle hints of peanut and Mexican chocolate, held at bay by a pile of Mexi-rice and creamy refritos. Corn was the chosen tortilla for scooping the mole.
We mostly enjoyed the rellenos mi amore, a sample platter that features both the menu's relleno options.
A not-so traditional relleno — a cotija-stuffed poblano atop telera bread, covered with pale sour cream sauce — was served side-by-side with a traditional one.
The latter was a more recognizable egg-dredged and pan-fried poblano pepper packed with seasoned ground beef and gooey orange cheese (not a fan of this stuff). This relleno came covered with a spicy tomato sauce and more of the melted cheese blend.
As if this weren't enough, the plate also had paprika-dusted roasted potatoes (a popular side dish in Michoacan) and a simple green salad with cucumber and tomato.
We finished the night with a dense and creamy wedge of flan ($3.45), topped with whipped cream and drizzled with amber-hued caramel sauce.
On another visit, we sat on the patio and sipped orange sodas ($1.50) while perusing the ensalada and tostada offerings.
We settled on a tostada de ceviche ($8.95/large). Two crisp tostada shells were topped with fresh-tasting bay shrimp, Krab meat (the menu says crab!), chopped onion, tomato and cilantro, splashed with lime juice. Minus the Krab discrepancy, we were relatively happy with this refreshing starter.
Next came a stew called puerco Michoacan ($9.45), a large platter brimming with tender stewed pork in zesty tomato sauce with sweet corn, onion, jalapeno and poblano peppers. A customary pile of seasoned rice and refritos came on the side.
We weren't as pleased with the torta sandwich ($6.95). This Mexican-style sandwich, made on locally baked telera bread, had rubber band-tough pieces of carne asada, shredded lettuce, avocado, onion, tomato and sour cream.
Plus, the sandwich was served with roasted spuds topped with entirely too much orange cheese.
Aside from a few glaring errors, Andrade's in Meridian usually gets it right. It's definitely one of the friendliest Mexican restaurants in the Valley.
James Patrick Kelly is the Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@ yahoo.com.