Smile Politely

An evening at Escobar’s

As I approached the heavy wooden door of Escobar’s a wave of bittersweet feelings washed over me. All of the delectable memories of Escobar’s I had stored in my head over the years came flooding through. I’m one of the lucky ones who have wonderful memories to take with me once Escobar’s closes it’s doors. I was also feeling extremely thankful to be able to enjoy another meal at this special place.

When we walked in we were greeted by the host and led to a table by the window. It was a rainy day so I was glad of any little bit of light we could soak up. I also began to soak up the interior. The tables and chairs are dark and heavy, while the walls are painted a contrasting warm rust color. The brightly colored, Latin-inspired artwork decorating the stucco walls added a nice pop of color to the space. The atmosphere makes you want to stick around and order one more sangria. The sangria is fruity, cold and delicious by the way. Now it was time to decide on what may be my final meal at Escobar’s, since the restaurant will be closing at the end of this year. 

We commenced our meal by choosing an appetizer. I munched on the homemade bread and muffins while I began this difficult task. We ended up being a little adventurous and ordered the El Salvadorian pupusa, presented with a creamy guajillo pepper sauce ($7). It was topped with a curdito slaw and diced tomatoes. Curdito slaw is a simple cabbage, onion, and carrot slaw traditional to the dish. Pupusa is masa dough that is stuffed with beans and cheese, then flattened and panfried in oil. The exterior of the pupusa was fried to a beautiful bronze color and had a satisfying crispiness when I cut into it. The inside was creamy from beans and salty from the generous amounts of gooey cheese. The creamy red guajillo pepper sauce was spicy and velvety smooth. The flavors were spectacular!

It was on to the main dishes. The New York strip steak with blue cheese, goat cheese, and horseradish sauce served with veggies and garlic mashed potatoes won over my dinner companion ($24). It was one of the many mouth watering specials that evening. The steak was cooked to a nice medium-rare and was well-seasoned. The tender meat was smothered in a thick sauce that was sweet from the goat cheese, spicy from the horseradish and salty from the blue cheese. All of the savory smells wafting around me were incredible. The garlic mashed potatoes were smooth and had just the right amount of salt, pepper and garlic.

For my meal selection, I went back and forth between the chicken with mole sauce and the Hanger Steak Asada with beans, rice, guacamole and sautéed veggies. Both sounded delicious so I finally settled on the hanger steak asada ($20) served with a spicy pipian sauce. Pipian sauce is a savory sauce made from roasted and pureed sesame or pumpkin seeds, it’s also known as green mole. At Escobar’s they use pumpkin seeds. When the platter of food was set in front of me, I was delighted by the portion size.The hanger steak was perfectly pink and the fresh zucchini, carrots, peppers and green beans had great texture and charred flavor from the grill. There were corn tortillas served along side the meal to scoop up the goodness or make little tacos. The rich russet brown pipian sauce was smokey and had a spicy punch.

Now it was onto the dessert portion of the evening. My friend was too full to have dessert, but luckily I was not. I quickly chose the Mexican flourless chocolate cake spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper ($6). It’s also made with a little espresso to bring out the richness of the chocolate. It was pure decadence. The texture of the cake was silky smooth and I could taste the hint of sweet cinnamon and the slight kick of spice. I probably could have eaten a whole cake by myself. It was that good.

While I was finishing up my notes our waitress Maya arrived at our table to check on us one last time. She was very knowledgeable about the dishes and their ingredients. I could tell she sincerely loves where she works. I asked her if she had worked at Escobar’s since their opening, she told me she had left and came back two different times. I asked what kept bringing her back and she explained that Escobar’s is like a family. That’s what she’ll miss the most when the restaurant closes. “The free coffee isn’t a bad perk either”, she joked. It seems the employees at Escobar’s will miss the place just as much as we will. I hope this was not my final meal at Escobar’s, but if it was, thanks for the delicious memories. 

Escobar’s Restaurant is located at 6 E. Columbia Ave, Champaign, and is open for dinner Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5 to 10 p.m. It’s open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and brunch Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

According to the restaurant, Escobar’s will be open through mid-January 2017.

All photos by Rebecca Wells. 

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