Value gets a bad rap. It isn't exciting. It isn't sexy. But when you get your restaurant tab and it's reasonable — you've had good food at a fair price and enjoyed yourself — then you realize that a value meal is a pretty good thing to have.
It can be kind of hard to find though. So it was nice to discover the value of La Mulita, the sister restaurant to Delicia that opened recently in the other side of the same building at 52nd Street and College Avenue.
And while La Mulita isn't without its flaws, we left the restaurant after a recent lunch feeling like we'd gotten plenty of value.
First of all, most cocktails are six bucks, a welcome price point in these days of $12 and $13 drinks. Now, I completely understand that the $12 drink I might order somewhere else has a lot more going on in terms of creative ingredients — but sometimes you just want a straightforward margarita or some sangria to sip with your chips and salsa.
La Mulita's cocktail list leans heavily on rum and tequila, which seems to fit the basic cantina atmosphere. It's a casual walk-in-and-sit-at-the-bar kind of place, where the food comes out in paper baskets and a napkin dispenser sits on each table. In that respect, it has more in common with the neighboring Red Key Tavern than it does with the also nearby Eat + Drink cocktail bar.
And if we'd known that — that La Mulita is more of a bar, and if you can find a table great, otherwise you're out of luck — we wouldn't have stood around awkwardly on a busy Friday night. But with no one to tell you that, and no "please seat yourself" sign, we found ourselves unsure. Do we wait to be seated? Pounce on a table as soon as someone stands up? Anyone know how long it might be?
After several servers passed us by while avoiding eye contact, someone from the bar finally came over and told us that tables were first come, first serve. And so, since no one looked like they were ready to leave, we did.
We had better luck stopping in for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Only about half the table and a few seats at the bar were full, so we seated ourselves and found the service to be great. And once seated we could certainly appreciate the appeal of the place. Bare bulb strings of lights and a variety of table styles, including a picnic table, add to the cantina vibe, making La Mulita a comfortable place to hang out.
Here's where the value comes in: You could easily order a $3 basket of crisp chips with a flavorful salsa fresca and a $5 chicken croquettes appetizer, which comes with a tasty serrano aioli, and have plenty to snack on while enjoying a drink or two. Or order a taco and cemita (a small sandwich) combo for $7. The pork Milanese cemita and a grilled shrimp taco are solid options.
Or try the $6 Mexicano hot dog, which certainly sounded good on the menu, wrapped in bacon and topped with pico de gallo, guacamole, chipotle mayo and caramelized onions. It didn't lack for flavor, but unfortunately, underneath all the toppings, the dog itself was cold. Because it has potential, though, I might give it another try, but with a specific request to make sure the dog is indeed hot.
But the star of the meal was the chilaquiles, which pretty much made up for any disappointments. The basic dish, strips of tortillas topped with salsa, onions, radish, crema and queso fresco, is $5, but you really need to add on the optional fried eggs for an extra buck — the eggs make the dish. You can also get a modest addition of steak for an extra $3, which was a nice plus. With all the extras, the dish is perfect hangover food — not the best-looking fare, but hearty, tasty and great with that margarita or sangria.
Churros and chocolate ($3.50) provide a little something sweet, and we enjoyed those too. We'll be back — for drinks, chips and salsa and definitely the chilaquiles.
Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JKetzenberger.