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Don Manuel’s does Mexican food right, here and right now

Mystery Diner • Mar 5, 2019 at 8:15 AM

Don Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant can be found on the north side of Erwin. What Don Manuel’s kitchen cooks is good ol’ Tex-Mex style of Mexican food that is slightly modified, plus not-so-familiar offerings that are found in other parts of our neighbor to the south. My friends the dine-around bunch are always ready for an evening of dining and fun, joining my dining partner and I one recent evening for a trip south of the (Washington/Unicoi County) border.

Don Manuel’s is located in the same North Main Avenue in Erwin shopping center that houses Tractor Supply and Dollar General, occupying the last storefront on your right. The cashier and takeout station fronts the closed kitchen area. There is seating for more than 80 patrons in booths and tables, with restrooms at the rear of the dining room.

Veggie Delight quesadilla. Our server Giovanna (“Gio” to her friends) was kind enough to seat the five of us at a comfortable table, ply us with drinks and freshly-baked tortilla chips sided with two kinds of salsa. The Dieter started by giving Gio her order: a Veggie Delight quesadilla, ($6.99) and side salad. Since Don Manuel’s kitchen staff cook all meals to order, Gio had the Dieter’s veggie quesadilla in front of her within 10 minutes. I was fortunate to share a bite or two from the Dieter’s plate, and found her veggie quesadilla quite tasty, with a very nice quality of texture from the mushrooms and tomatoes, matched with a savory crunchiness from the grilled onions and green peppers. The side salad was also good, providing a nice palate cleansing between bites of the quesadilla.

El Nino salad. The Retiree opted for an El Nino salad ($10.99) with strips of grilled steak and chicken mixed in with coarsely-chopped grilled veggies, and covered with melted Monterey jack cheese that was still bubbling form its trip through the oven. My sample forkful of the El Nino salad contained both steak and chicken along with a broccoli floret, a ring of grilled onion, a swirl of the jack cheese, and topped with a broken piece of the deep-fried flour tortilla bowl. Excellent in all respects.

Pollo Picoso. My friend the Carnivore decided that one of Don Manuel’s Especiales was what he wanted for supper, ordering the Pollo Picoso (meaning “Spicy Chicken”, Anglos, $10.99). This is Don Manuel’s take on the ubiquitous Arozz Con Pollo (“ACP” or chicken & rice) with onions and refried beans added along with a healthy dash from the kitchen’s spice rack. My friend augmented the spice quotient of the dish with the contents of a red squeeze bottle labelled “Sauce Macho” that my friend added after deciding that the pollo picoso “needed something.” The Sauce Macho gave a one-two sneaky punch of very spicy heat. Halfway through the meal, I noticed a sheen of sweat forming on the Carnivore’s brow.

“Too spicy?” I asked him.

“Not at (cough), not at all,” croaked my friend in response.

Nachos with Grilled Chicken. My dining partner had no trouble choosing her entrée, telling Gio to bring out an order of Don Manuel’s nachos with grilled chicken ($9.99). This dish had more of the restaurant’s homemade corn tortilla chips as a bed for strips of grilled white-meat breast of chicken that had first been marinated in Don Manuel’s proprietary marinade. The chicken strips tasted wonderful, and the corn tortilla chips excellent as always.

Torta de Asada. My choice was the Torta de Asada ($8.99) and a chorizo-filled “Street Taco” ($2.50) on the side. Gio brought out the taco first so that I could enjoy the spiciness of the chorizo sausage with the crisp, cold shredded lettuce, the diced ripe tomato and chopped white onion; a (minimal) squirt of the Sauce Macho was all that was needed for the taco to achieve perfection. As I finished my street taco, Gio brought my Torta de Asada to the table. My torta was made correctly, starting with half a loaf of wonderful Mexican bread sliced lengthwise and then filled with refried beans, guacamole, sliced white onions, shredded lettuce, diced tomato, sour cream and a good quantity of flank steak that was thin-sliced and grilled until slightly crispy. So-constructed, there was enough torta for to share and enjoy with my friends.

Adios Amigos. Don Manuel’s is a great Mexican restaurant where you and your family can dine on well-prepared and presented Tex-Mex (and other) Mexican selections with something for every palate and tummy disposition and served by a competent wait staff in pleasant surroundings. If you see Giovanna on your visit, let her know that the dine-around bunch and the Mystery Diner say “Muchas Gracias.”

Don Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant

1238 N. Main Ave.

Erwin

270-2184

Mon-Sat 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Sun 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Available on Facebook

Credit cards accepted

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