Reviewed by Barbara Chisholm, Fri., Oct. 1, 1999
La Reyna1816 South First, 447-1280
Mon-Sat, 7am-9pm; Sun, 8am-8:30pm
As residents of the south side of town, we've passed this restaurant more times than we can count as we travel down the South First thoroughfare. It seems to have an almost constantly bustling business, so one blistering afternoon we decided to see what makes all those folks stop by.
We entered a dining area that hasn't messed with the note it struck in what appears to be 1967. Perhaps it is unintentional, but the effect is very retro-chic. The folks who frequent the Continental Club would fit right in with their big-fendered cars. Every table (except on the patio) is a booth, so it's a cozy dining experience anywhere you alight.
The meal began in that most reassuring, quintessentially Texan way, with a basket of chips and bowl of salsa. The chips were appropriately crisp and were served warm, a nice touch. The salsa made a big statement of heat at the beginning, but it lost its edge before we had finished half the bowl. Either that, or our tongues quickly developed heat-impervious properties.
My companion made a quick pick when she selected the chicken flautas. I had a tougher time deciding between the chili relleno and one of the many enchilada selections. When I asked the waitress for her recommendation, I was informed that "both are great," so I was left to my own devices and boldly went for the chili relleno.
We started our meal with the ubiquitous bowl of queso. This smooth, yellow concoction was the typical Velveeta-and-canned-chili variety. While nothing special, it's exactly what we want and expect when we decide to risk the fat and go for queso.
The chili relleno platter arrived batter-fried and boasting an enormous poblano pepper stuffed beyond capacity with seasoned beef and smothered with a blanket of melted Monterrey Jack cheese. Accompanying the centerpiece was the typical rice and beans. The beef filling was a savory, if somewhat curious, saute of ground beef, carrots, and potatoes. There seemed to be no chilies at all in the mix, which lent the beef an almost sweet quality courtesy of the carrots. The egg batter was not excessively greasy, although the cover of cheese rendered any crispness undetectable. The total effect was of an extremely mild mini-casserole suitable to any covered-dish occasion.
The chicken flautas were another story altogether. As tightly rolled as a Romeo Y Julieta cigar, these flavorful beauties positively shattered upon the first bite. These babies didn't suffer the limp fate of other, less carefully tended, flautas. The seasoned chicken interior provided the perfect complement to the crackly casing. The shredded chicken seemed almost stewed in its gentle, chili-scented seasoning before it found its home in the crispy tortilla wrapping. Did I mention that the flautas are crisp? The cool toppings of sour cream and guacamole were obviously added only seconds before the plate made its way to our table, so that the integrity of the frying was not destroyed.
Accompanying both entrees were the standard beans and rice, and standard and somewhat unexceptional they were. Both were tame in their seasonings and acceptable but uninspired in their execution.
La Reyna is the kind of place I frequented as a kid when we would visit my mother's hometown of San Antonio. And that reliable ambiance and food is obviously the secret to the steady stream of happy diners who make the stop here on the busy South First boulevard.