The sign at the entrance to Raul's Mexican Restaurant proudly proclaims "original since 1962." When our server added, "you won't find this food anywhere else," I adjusted my expectations. Raul's does not boast authentic Mexican cuisine - think Mexican with a West Des Moines twist.
Spending less than $20 on two entrees required some creativity, but my guest and I managed once we found the a la carte offerings on the back of the menu. Upon receiving our two tostada (No. 8) dinner entree, we learned why few dishes cost less than $10. Each tostada, stacked two inches high with toppings, was larger than my fist, and the two sides - refried beans with melted cheddar and Spanish rice topped with salsa - were substantial. The size of two a la carte beef tacos, served in fried flour tortilla shells (think Tasty Tacos), also impressed me and my guest. (Two tacos cost $6.50.)
I was able to choose any combination of chicken, beef, beans and guacamole to cover the two tostadas. I went with beef and bean on one and chicken with guacamole for the other. Both of the meats tasted simple, without any distinct spices or flavors, alongside typical taco dressings (cheddar cheese, tomato and shredded iceberg) atop a flat corn tortilla.
The entree description referred to "Raul's own tostada sauce" that passed my taste buds unnoticed. Maybe it was the dollop of salsa near the center of each tostada?
My guest and I poured the free salsas -- mild and hot -- over both entrees and side dishes to add some kick and flavor. They tasted the best mixed together (our server's recommendation), since the mild salsa carries strong onion and garlic flavors that complimented the thinner, tomato-y hot salsa. Free homemade corn chips were delicious.
We never waited for refills, received our entrees in less than 10 minutes and were very impressed to see the restaurant owner, Connie Hernandez (Raul's daughter), stop by our table -- she helped the servers with refills, napkins and the like.
With three spacious dining areas and a large bar, the colorful environment carries a family friendly, casual vibe. The predictable sombreros, fedoras and wall hangings accented orange and yellow stucco walls. I appreciated the semi-open kitchen, allowing diners to peek in and watch the cooks prepare the dishes.
Tostada dinner.. $9.25
Two tacos ..........$6.50
Total with tax and tip: $20
Raul's Mexican Restaurant
Find it: 1261 Eighth St., West Des Moines; 223-8808
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday