Melting pot of spice and nice

Phillip Brents

Fri November 22, 2013 3:17pm

When mention is made of the United States, the first reference is usually to it being a “melting pot” of cultures. While that is true, the same can also be said to some degree about Latin America.
Mexico, in particular, exhibits a hybrid state between pre-Colombian culture and that imported from Europe during the Spanish conquest. It’s a mixing, but more of two cultures rather than many.
That mixing is exhibited foremost in the regional cuisine of Mexico, with many indigenous dishes surviving to the present.
Pozole is one of those dishes, and diners can relish in both its ritual antiquity and its status as modern staple at Papagayos Grill and Cantina in Eastlake.
In pre-Colombian Mexico, the soupy stew carried ritual significance due to its primary ingredient — maize — which was considered a sacred plant. Thus it was generally consumed on special occasions.
Today, many Mexicans consume pozole between Christmas and New Year.
But it can be consumed at any time, and the rebranded Eastlake eatery is drawing crowds — and rave reviews — for its homemade pozole.
“My dad always made this at home and we loved it so much we told him he should serve it at the restaurant,” said Teresa Espinoza, the daughter of restaurant owner and family patriarch Pedro Gutierrez.
Papagayos opened under its new name two months ago; however, it’s been under the same ownership since November 1999.
The rebranding also included a remodel and a move toward a more family-friendly feel.
That is reflected in the interior booth and patio seating and also in the colorful parrot motifs placed all around the airy establishment.
The menu also underwent some tweaking. Popular additions have been the pozole (served with homemade corn or flour tortillas) and chimichanga de marlin appetizer.
For those not familiar with the Mexican specialty, just what is pozole?
It’s now considered a soup with its main ingredients being whole hominy kernels and meat (usually pork). It can be served either with a red or clear broth.
The pozole served at Papagayos is excellent. The tender stewed pork is easily cut with a spoon and the soup stock has the perfect balance of chile spices. The condiments that come in a side dish include chopped onion, cilantro and cabbage as well avocado and radish slices.
The idea is to mix the ­condi­ments in the soup bowl — and enjoy!
The onion and cabbage give the dish a unique crunchiness while the cilantro and radish enhance the overall flavor. The result is the transformation from a soup to a stew (without the need for hours of extra cooking).
But don’t limit yourself at Papagayos to just the pozole. The menu is surprisingly diverse — there’s something for every taste here.
The breakfast section includes an amazing 20 items. Other sections feature quesadillas, burritos, tacos, appetizers, fajitas, molcajetes, shrimp entrees, fish entrees, soups and salads, cocktails, combination plates, specialties, sides, desserts and a kids menu.
There is also a full bar and entertainment stage.
Specials run throughout the week — fish tacos on Tuesday (99 cents all day), karaoke on Wednesday and Sunday nights from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., live bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. and mariachis on Sunday from1 to 7 p.m.
If you are a new customer or reacquainting yourself with the restaurant, try the chimichangas de marlin ($10.50). The tender smoked marlin is served with red onion, tomato, Serrano pepper, guacamole and chipotle tartar sauce.
The molcajetes (Arrachera steak, grilled Baja-style prawns, adobada, grilled chicken breast, beef tongue — or a mix) are quite authentic, served with grilled cactus, grilled onion, panela cheese, chile toreado, avocado, cilantro, rice, beans and tortillas.
The rice and beans are served in a side dish (the beans come in a mini corn taco bowl). The homemade tortillas are kept warm in serving dishes. The corn tortillas are surprisingly soft while the flour tortillas simply melt in the mouth.
Fresh ingredients and generous portions make the diner feel welcome here. Don’t be bashful — bring a group! The music rocks after 9 p.m.
Business hours are Monday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Attire is casual and waiter service is provided. Catering is also available.
For more information, call 216-8812 or visit the restaurant’s Facebook site (