Open the door to El Papagayo and what hits you first is the scent: a mix of salty tortilla chips and grilled steak and onions. There’s a spacious room of tables, all with a view of the fountain placed near the door. A big screen TV hangs in the far left corner, as one of the only forms of decor on the walls that doesn’t portray a parrot or bowl of fruit.
Gazing around at the dishes being taken to and from surrounding tables is torture. Each dish looks delicious, no matter what’s on the plate, and, as anticipation builds, the wait can feel like forever.
Visit the self-serve salsa bar to curb your appetite during those “forever” minutes. Either the sweet mango-cucumber salsa fresca or the guacamole (with what seemed to have lemon, jalapeño, onion and cilantro) combined with the thick, crunchy tortilla chips should distract you just long enough until your food arrives.
Your meal, the enchiladas rojas de papas al pastor (two enchiladas filled with marinated grilled potatoes, topped with homemade red enchilada sauce and cheese, served with rice and beans), will come just in time. You can find it on the extensive vegetarian menu, which is full of fantastic options regardless of whether or not you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Choosing these enchiladas will be one of the better decisions of your life. The potatoes are more like firm french fries that both contrast and compliment the rest of the dish, but the red sauce and cheese softens them up quickly. Each tomato-tinged bite melts in your mouth until you realize your plate is empty and your stomach is full.
After your meal, when the bill reaches your table, don’t ask the waitress if she’s sure that you’re only paying $8.99. As shocking as the low price may appear, considering how much food you just ate, it’s accurate. In fact, nearly everything on the menu is inexpensive, which should be all the more motivation to return.
El Papagayo is located at 5804 Marconi Ave., just three and a half miles from ARC, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Consider it Mexican food for anyone who wants something both filling and a bargain, and something a bit different than your “usual” from McDonalds.
5804 Marconi Ave., CA 95608
Open Wednesday through Sunday 9 am to 9 pm
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price range per meal: About $9