Recently, I've worked as a "temp" doing various jobs in and around Memphis. During my assignments, I've visited many restaurants that I never knew existed. From the quaint Heritage Cafe in Munford, Tennessee where I had a delicious Philly Cheesesteak omelet, to the Asian Palace Restaurant that served me my first and only Dim Sum dish, I have had great experiences. However, it's nice to return to a familiar place. Fortunately, while working in Millington, I've had a chance to do that.
During my stint in Millington, I visited three restaurants that were among my favorite places to dine at when I worked in Shelby Forest: Kelvin's Hot Wings (formally a barbecue restaurant) in Frayser, Mandarin Wok II and Los Pilares. Unlike the first two restaurants mentioned, I never went on the record about my thoughts of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. I've always liked Los Pilares because it combined great food with outstanding service. During a recent visit, I got the chance to experience it again.
The day I visited Los Pilares, I tagged along with other "temps" who wanted to eat at Taco Bell for lunch. With Los Pilares being next door, I chose authenticity over Faux Mexican. My choice of entrée was the Quesadilla Rellena, a delicious favorite stuffed with cheese and a choice of beef, chicken or shrimp. Wrapped around a baked tortilla shell, the quesadilla comes with the requisite Mexican side items of rice, refried beans, tomato, guacamole, lettuce and sour cream. The latter four items came in handy, for it turned my chicken quesadilla into a creamy mix of flavor. To spice it up, I added salsa that resulted in the quesadilla tasting great. It helped that the fluffy tortilla shell, while firm, was malleable enough to enclose the added items that I put in without breaking apart. In all, it was a pleasure to eat that cost a little more than a comparable meal at most fast food joints.
The service at Los Pilares was excellent, as always. The second I sat at my table, a server was there with a menu and an eagerness to take my order. Less than a minute after taking it, my chips and salsa arrived. A few minutes later, the server brought out the main course with a big smile on his face. This all took place in about six to eight minutes, which is really good for a restaurant. Maybe the reason for that could have been the paucity of diners inside the restaurant (this was during a Saturday afternoon). Or it might have been due to the restaurant’s staff being in a great mood after Mexico won the gold medal in soccer by beating powerhouse Brazil in the 2012 Olympics in London. Whatever the reason, I appreciated the restaurant’s efforts in providing excellent service.
While I enjoyed my quesadilla, my fellow “temps” were happy with what they had at Taco Bell. Nothing against it, but Mexican fast food will never substitute for the real thing. I won't outline why Taco Bell is inferior to even crappy Mexican restaurants like the blog Memphis Que did in a barbecue comparison. Even those who will never visit Memphis will likely assume that a genuine barbecue joint like Jack's Bar-B-Que Rib Shack serves better tasting ribs than a perfectly made McRib sandwich from McDonald's. Likewise, a quesadilla from Taco Bell (even if renowned chef Lorena Garcia created it) will never stack up against a genuine Mexican restaurant like Los Pilares. The reasons are obvious, such as cheaper ingredients and a lesser skilled kitchen staff who are more focused on quantity than quality. I hope I'm not coming off like a food snob, but I like eating at places run by chefs whose reputation is on the line every time they serve something from the kitchen. That's something that a fast food manager never has to worry about, for his/her concern is more about profitability and towing the company line. But fast food serves a useful function in society, for it quickly provides a cheap meal for those who don't either have the time or money to savor something better. I just hope that those who regularly eat at Taco Bell don't fall into the belief that they are eating genuine Mexican food. If that's all they know, then they need to get to a Mexican restaurant ASAP. For those who believe that Taco Bell is genuine Mexican cuisine despite having the real thing, then they should never talk about food. Instead, they should focus on subjects that even morons can't screw up, like women in tube tops.
I wish Los Pilares was closer to where I live. Actually, Los Pilares has three locations in Metro Memphis. If the owners are looking for another location to open a restaurant, there's vacant space in the building that houses Dino's Grill in my neighborhood. It would be a great addition to Midtown's Vollintine-Evergreen neighborhood that currently enjoys great restaurants like Dino's and Cafe Eclectic. Whatever its plans for the future, I will always be a loyal supporter of Los Pilares and I wish it future success.
UPDATE: That vacant space mentioned earlier is now occupied by Midtown Skate Shop, selling a "large selection of top name brand clothes, shoes, skateboards and skateboard accessories" (direct quote from its website). It would have been nice to have had a Mexican restaurant move in, but some of my friends told me that the owners are really good guys that Vollintine-Evergreen residents should support. I wish them well in their endeavors, for their shop seems like a good fit for the neighborhood.