La Tolteca is a lively place. It is a bit noisy when you walk in, but it is the sound of people having fun. Mexican music plays in the background and the atmosphere is energetic.
La Tolteca is located on Opal Court in Hagerstown where Al Pomodoro used to be. The layout of the restaurant is much the same with clean lines of dark wood and lots of windows. But the décor now has a Mexican vibe with cactus, lizards and other images of South of the Border.
Pap Ricka and I were promptly greeted when we arrived and shown to a table near the window. Within minutes, our drink orders were taken and we were provided a basket of chips. Along side the chips was a bowl of traditional salsa and another bowl of a creamy white, slightly sweet dip. The salsa had a nice tang and it was tasty to move from one bowl to the other, contrasting the spicy with the sweet.
While we munched our chips we worked our way through the menu. Wow! There were an amazing number of choices. There were a variety of appetizers, ranging from $2.75 to $8.95, including nachos with beef, beans or cheese, guacamole and stuffed jalapenos.
There was half of page of combination dinners from $8.50 to $9.50. The combinations seemed endless: one taco, two enchiladas and Spanish rice; one chalupa, one chile relleno and fried beans: one taco, one burrito Spanish rice and fried beans.
Another page contained “Especialidades de la Casa.” These dishes were slightly more exotic: mole ranchero ($8.50): a chicken breast topped with spicy gravy served with Spanish rice, guacamole, salad and flour or corn tortillas. Or how about chile poblano ($8.50): two chile peppers filled with cheese, fried potatoes and onions, also served with Spanish rice and fried beans.
Then there were columns of burritos, quesadillas and fajitas, beef and steak dishes, pork dishes and chicken dishes. And a whole page of vegetarian choices. This was going to be hard.
Finally, I decided upon the Special Dinner from the House Specialties page. This meal was one chalupa, one chile relleno, one beef taco, one enchilada and one tamal. It came with Spanish rice and fried beans for $13.50. I thought that such a plate would give me a sampling of many of the different kinds of dishes served at La Tolteca.
Pap selected the Burrito Grande: a large burrito stuffed with either chicken or beef, onions, and bell peppers and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream for $10.50. It too came with Spanish rice and fried beans.
While we waited for our food we looked around. At a nearby table, the waiter pulled up a cart and began making guacamole. He had the stone vessel, avocados and all the trimmings. It looked yummy.
In a very short time our dinners arrived. Pap’s was a HUGE burrito stuffed with chicken and smothered in cheese. The promised toppings were heaped up and covered the plate, which was the size of a serving platter.
My eyes grew wide: my dinner took up TWO plates. The first had the taco, chalupa and chile relleno. The second, the enchilada and tamal along with the rice and beans. Holy cow! We ploughed in.
I started with the taco. It was crispy filled with ground beef, which was nicely seasoned, cheese and lettuce. Having dispatched that, I turned to the chile relleno: probably my favorite Mexican dish. This one was filled with ground beef and melted cheese and I gobbled it up. I looked up to take a breath and Pap was steadily working his way though the giant burrito.
“It’s good,” he said.
He made a little salad of the lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and sour cream and added a big scoop of beans. Yum.
I decided to try the rice and beans as well. The rice was delicious, with a nice lightly spicy flavor and it had carrots and peas in it, too. The beans were also good. I especially liked the texture — they were not all pureed, but had some whole beans in it as well.
I looked at my pants and decided I could tackle the chalupa, but the tamal and enchilada would have to go home with me. The chalupa had some of the beans on a flat tortilla and it was topped with cheese and quacamole. I liked the combination of textures and flavors on the plate. Some things were crispy, some were creamy, some were spicy, some were gooey.
Pap was very determined and cleaned his plate. I offered him some of mine and he groaned. I took the remains home and ate them for dinner the next day with the rice and beans. I was full that day, too!
Our waiter had been very attentive, filling Pap’s iced tea glass several times and checking in with us to see what we needed.
La Tolteca is a great place to go if you love Mexican food. There truly is something for everyone and it all tastes good.
Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.