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Pepe’s is promising despite building’s tortured past

Submitted by Cameron Moix on October 9, 2011 – 11:03 amNo Comment


Photo by Cameron Moix

My expectations weren’t too high on my first visit to the new Mexican restaurant on West 12th Street due to the building’s tortured past. But despite the location’s habit of having a high turnover rate (the most recent of which was Mama Bea’s Burgers), Pepe’s seems to be a promising tenant.

Aesthetically, the simple Mexican joint is exactly that – simple. The building’s exterior is of ambiguous form aside from a new neon sign that boasts the business’s small sombrero-wearing mascot. I learned, however, not to judge this book by its modest cover.

The environment at Pepe’s is similar to many restaurants like it – colorful and lively, but typical. The dining area is lined with bright orange walls that have been textured for rustic style and are hung with colorful banners of Mexican pride. To the rear of the main dining area is a small but well-equipped bar, and the front is lined with large, arched windows that allow customers to dine in the natural light.

The staff at this young restaurant is both enjoyable and efficient. The servers seem to have a pleasant demeanor and a good sense of humor as they expedite orders at impressive speeds.

Pepe’s menu offers many Tex-Mex favorites, from quesadillas, burritos, fajitas and salads to seafood, vegetarian and traditional combination plates. As customary at any good Mexican restaurant, the first item received is always a basket of hot, freshly-made tortilla chips and a goblet of classic salsa, which is of medium spiciness and a perfectly thin consistency.

Our first visit was a late-night stop, and we ordered quickly from our guts. Without wasting time, aside from ravaging the chips and salsa set before us, we pinpointed our dietary desires and chose them without another thought; mine was the Burrito Supremo.

In no more than 10 minutes our food lay piping hot on the table and the waitress swiftly served us refills of sweet iced tea. The Burrito Supremo, which can be found for $6.95 in the Especialidades de la Casa section of the menu, proved to be quite a bargain considering its size. The menu described my choice as a steak or chicken fajita with rice, beans, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo all wrapped in a big flour tortilla – served dry. I opted for the chicken and held the sour cream.

The Burrito Supremo was a wise and gratifying choice, with its tender, fajita-style chicken and pleasantly fresh ingredients. Besides my filling burrito, I ordered a small cheese dip for $2.95. Although the queso was nothing spectacular, the satisfying and steamy blend was a perfect complement to the main dish and I scooped the bowl clean.

Wanting to sample Pepe’s daily lunch specials, we returned the following Tuesday. The specials are served every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include mostly traditional Tex-Mex fare at a discounted price.

This time around I ordered the fajitas with chicken. It was once again grilled to a savory, tender golden brown and accompanied with the standard mix of grilled vegetables, lettuce and pico de gallo. The fajitas included three fresh flour tortillas, rice, and beans. This sizeable lunch specialty had me full for hours for an affordable $6.75.

Although Pepe’s opened its doors in the beginning of September, the official grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 15. The event will include live Mariachi-style music, which the restaurant also offers from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Wednesday and Saturday evening.

Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant is not, by any means, an authentic gourmet eatery, but it has what counts – good, cheap food and drinks; and with close proximity to UALR, it offers a great alternative in an area dominated by fast food.

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