Well, I’ve been able to correct my culinary ignorance, and I’m enjoying what I’ve learned in the process. My classroom can be found in Roan Mountain at a place called Puerto Nuevo Fresh Mexican & Seafood Restaurant.
Puerto Nuevo Fresh Mexican & Seafood Restaurant occupies a former residence in Roan Mountain on U.S. Highway 19E, just past the entrance to Roan Mountain State Park, and has been open about a year or so, being one of five other Puerto Nuevo restaurants located throughout East Tennessee and Western North Carolina.
This Puerto Nuevo seats 86 patrons. Very clean (and warm) restrooms are at the right rear of the dining room, with the checkout counter to the left. Dining area décor features lots black & white photos of Mexican historical figures such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, both looking fierce and business-like, and publicity photos of Mexican film stars like Cantinflas and Lupe Velez; both smiling, but still business-like.
Salsa Bar: We were conducted to our table by our server, Ana. After taking our drink orders, Ana showed us the location of the salsa bar and suggested we try some on the complimentary bowl of Puerto Nuevo’s fresh, made-in-house tortilla chips. Puerto Nuevo’s salsa bar contains several types of homemade salsa-style offerings, including guacamole (mild), verde salsa (tomatillo-based with a low heat), red tomatillo salsa (auburn-tinted with more heat-hotness than the verde salsa), white sauce (cool), bean salad salsa (full of veggies, corn and beans with a longer-lasting medium heat) and mango salsa (nicely astringent, with a sneaky heat note that’ll surprise you.)
Salmon Platter: Our friend the Retiree chose Puerto Nuevo’s broiled salmon platter for her supper ($14.25) sided with the house rice, steamed broccoli florets and a bowl of their slow-simmered frijoles negras (black beans to us Anglos). Though petite, our friend’s salmon filet was prepared correctly. It was “cooked through without being cooked to death,” as the Retiree said over her second hot, flaky and quite delicious forkful; especially so with rice and the frijoles negras as its accompaniment.
Shrimp Quesadilla: The Dieter’s attention was drawn to the menu entry for quesadillas. Curious about the size of the individual quesadilla, our calorie counter was told that Puerto Nuevo’s quesadillas were about as big as her hand’s span, prompting the Dieter to order two of the shrimp quesadillas ($10.75) with some guacamole salad. The quesadillas were a pair of ”street-taco” sized flour tortillas packed to bursting with grilled shrimp, lettuce, tomato and a light dusting of shredded jack cheese and grilled through. Quite delectable, especially with guacamole salad on the side.
Pollo Asada: The Carnivore had been talking about having “something special” on our drive over to Roan Mountain. He found it in a platter of Puerto Nuevo’s Pollo Asada ($11.75) with rice, pico de gallo salad and some slow-cooked red beans. The pollo asada is a chicken breast, char-grilled and served with grilled onions on top. It is phenomenally good when topped with a mixture of the rice, pico and the beans. Every element contributed something in both flavor and texture to the meal that made my meat-eating friend very pleased indeed.
Pork Fajita Nachos: My dining partner was quite taken with Puerto Nuevo’s complimentary tortilla chips, deciding to have some more by ordering pork fajita nachos ($10.50) with grilled onions, topped with shredded jack cheese and then oven-baked until molten and delicious. The slow-roasted, savory pork made a good match with the grilled onions and melted cheese. The scratch-made tortilla chips did not go limp with the heat staying crispy all the way through the meal.
Oyster Hoagie w/baked potato & garden salad: I ordered my supper from the seafood side of the menu; an oyster hoagie sandwich with a baked potato ($9.95) and a small garden salad ($4.95) a la carte. Let me tell you, Puerto Nuevo does not skimp on their sandwiches, either in the bread used, (a French-style baguette here) or the filling centered on 12 good-sized Chesapeake oysters, each breaded and fried until cooked through and golden brown. Some tasty coleslaw was there as well, and I added some of Puerto Nuevo’s excellent bean salad salsa for contrast. Just for fun, I also added some bean salad salsa to the big russet spud that accompanied my oyster hoagie and really liked what I’d created.
The bottom line: The dine-around bunch and I really learned a lot about how different and delicious Mexican cookery can be, especially when the folks at Puerto Nuevo Fresh Mexican & Seafood Restaurant are doing the cooking. On the drive home, every member of our group was talking about how great the food was, how many new tastes and textures they had enjoyed and what a great job Ana did taking care of us all.
The valediction to our evening’s classwork was delivered by the Carnivore in his usual terse manner:
“These folks get a ‘Recommend’ from all of us. Right? We are coming back here soon. Right?”
Puerto Nuevo Fresh Restaurant & Seafood is ‘Recommended’ by the Mystery Diner. Right.
Puerto Nuevo Mexican & Seafood Restaurant
8162 Highway U.S. 19E
Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Mon-Sat 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sun 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
(Note: Currently closed on Wednesday for the winter season; will reopen in March)
Available on Facebook
Credit cards accepted