Preview: Preliminary Visit
Although I immensely enjoyed lunches at El Chisme Taqueria y Pizzeria in its former Merle Hay Road location, the simple strip-mall ambience just never drew me in for dinner. That recently changed with the restaurant’s move to Valley Junction and evening-only (except for Sundays) hours.
Ambience: In the space formerly occupied by Cafe Su, the modern, high-tech interior and corrugated tin walls are softened by rich red tabletops, whimsical neon-light flourishes and Mexican art on maize-colored walls. A few sight lines need to be addressed: My dining companion was staring at a defunct bar area (thankfully, another bar — this one well-stocked — beckons along the other side of the room).
Menu: The extensive list of Mexican specialties includes tacos, quesadillas and burritos, as well as a few entrées such as steak asada, pork al pastor and a rib-eye. The kitchen also specializes in pizza, including specialty Mexican-Italian hybrids as well as those topped more traditionally (sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms, et al.).
The hostess also showed us a list of pasta, steak and seafood specialties that the kitchen has in the works, to be debuted soon. These include shrimp, salmon, four-cheese ravioli, chorizo-filled ravioli and chicken prosciutto with Alfredo sauce.
Food Report: I don’t know the secret to the light, flaky homemade tortilla chips, but if I were in the business, I’d try to crack the code. Served alongside the jalapeño-flecked, melty-good queso dip and the super-fresh and chunky guacamole, they proved an amazing way to kick off dinner.
A trio of tacos — I chose mine topped with grilled steak bits, spicy pork and notably good shrimp — satisfied in the way this style of open-face, fresh-and-simple tacos generally do when made with the best ingredients. The “El Chisme style” calzone brought red onion, green peppers, Graziano sausage, banana peppers, cheese and cilantro, all bubbling and oozing out of a thick, yeasty crust.
It’s hard to roll the dice on a $24 entrée when everything else costs around $10, but we were glad we did; the tender, flavor-jammed rib-eye brought sumptuous, melt-in-your-mouth juiciness and the kind of rich, beefy flavor you’d expect to pay top dollar for at a steakhouse. In my view, this bodes well for the other ambitious entrées to come.
The chicken enchiladas were fresh and satisfying, but not the most exciting thing going on here.
Bottom Line: I’m looking forward to the next phase of this already admirable spot.
El Chisme, 225 Fifth St., West Des Moines; 255-5756
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 4:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday