When it comes to Mexican restaurants in the United States, you always seem to hear the word “authentic” being thrown around. But just because you’re dipping your chips in the spicy salsa and drinking a Modelo doesn’t mean you’re having a real Mexican dining experience. And here’s the big news: that’s OK. Americanized Mexican food has been altered to suit American tastes, so if it tastes good to you, eat on young diners. Food is about enjoying yourself. Listen to Wendy’s and “do what tastes right.”
With this attitude in mind, two friends and I headed to La Bamba at the Bed, Bath and Beyong Shopping Plaza in Naples for some satisfying Amexican grub.
La Bamba is a fairly typical Mexican restaurant for this side of the border. The décor is bland, punctuated by the stereotypical panchos and oversized sombreros of imagined ranchero culture, with a small television playing CNN behind the bar. The menu, though emblazoned with the words “Real Mexican Food,” reads easily and includes mostly American friendly options like nachos, burritos and fajitas, along with a few more inventive specialties.
I decided on a fairly reliable standby, the chicken fajitas ($13.95), while my friends opted for the taco salad with grilled chicken ($9.95) and one of the daily – we suspected monthly – special combo plates, which included an enchilada, soft taco and rice and beans with choices of chicken, beef or vegetarian ($9.50). Within about a minute of ordering, a basket of tortilla chips was delivered to our table along with a small bowl of moderately spicy salsa and a full mug of the saucy stuff for refills. Eagerly we attacked our complimentary appetizer.
I’d only managed to scarf down a few of the crisp fried chips before our waiter arrived again, this time with his arms full of plates. All three plates were deposited in front of me – the various components of my chicken fajitas. The fajitas themselves were a sizzling skillet of onions, peppers, tomatoes and chicken with enough meat and veggies to fill at least four or five of the small soft flour tortillas served warm on the side. The grilled tomatoes were a nice addition to the dish, as was the overflowing plate of condiments and sides that included rice, beans, sour cream, lettuce, diced tomatoes and my personal favorite: a nice big scoop of bright green guacamole.
My friend’s combo plate was equally large and temptingly full of melted cheese and beans piled atop the grilled chicken and tortillas with a bulging taco and large mound of rice filling the plate. And from the look of his quickly emptied dish, the special did not disappoint. The taco salad as well was a hefty mix of beans, cheese, grilled chicken, salsa, and hardboiled eggs tossed with lettuce and served in a crispy tortilla bowl. With enough chips and salsa snacking there was even enough to bring some salad home.
As we finished our meal and slouched back into the booth, groaning slightly under the weight of our stuffed stomachs, something became abundantly clear. As much as I like serious ethnic food full of imported ingredients and exotic recipes, there’s something to be said for the simple stuff that never fails to satisfy. Cheese and chicken, rice and beans, chips and salsa – make for a hearty, if not completely authentic Mexican meal. And with two of us coming in, with tip, at just $30.33, there’s something to be said for the price as well.