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El Tapatio

El Tapatio has been an Ashland institution for many years. In its previous location at the foot of Valley View Drive where it meets N. Highway 99, it has fed many locals, as well as travelers leaving Interstate 5 or heading down Highway 99 to Ashland or Talent.

The restaurant has now moved a few hundred yards south. It is still on the same street but is in a brand-new building tucked behind Ashland Auto and adjacent to Bear Creek Medical. It's a little out of the way, and there is only one way to drive in. But signs and frequent visits will fix that.

The new location offers plenty of parking. Inside, the restaurant has had room to open up the dining area, as well as include a bar. This has created a more more inviting atmosphere.

The new décor does the place proud. Tall-backed wooden chairs sit around carved wooden tables topped with glass. Booths around the rooms also back up to carved wooden tables. Against the back wall stands a smallish stage, set with a single chair, presumably for a guitar player to entertain guests or accompany salsa dancers.

The new space had only been open a little more than a week. My wife and I made our lunch there a family affair and brought our two grandsons. My 7-year-old grandson was pleased to find that there were two television sets on opposite walls showing a college football game (with the sound thankfully turned off). This kept him occupied while the grownups scanned the menu and nibbled on chips and salsa.

Our very attentive waiters kept our chip basket and water glasses filled without our having to ask.

Next to the bowl of salsa was a small decanter with more salsa to keep us in plentiful supply. It was a nice touch that I don't recall seeing anywhere else.

The menu offered many choices.

My wife ordered a quesadilla with cilantro, tomato and lettuce inside, along with the cheese, for $8.50.

I went for my usual Mexican restaurant comfort food: a combination plate with a cheese enchilada and a chile relleno for $10. Instead of cheese I could have had chicken, ground beef or shredded beef. Like all combos at the restaurant, mine was served with rice and beans.

The 7-year-old wanted cheese nachos ($6.50). His 4-year-old brother had a quesadilla from the kid's menu ($5.50) that came without rice and beans.

Each of the boys wanted a root beer and a Pepsi ($1.50 each), and I asked for my usual, an Arnold Palmer, which is half iced tea and half lemonade ($1.99). My wife was happy with her always-full glass of water.

The boys' drinks arrived quickly and came in a glass cowboy boot with a handle in the back. The 4-year-old's boot was slightly smaller, but his appreciation for the unusual glass was no less than his brother's.

"We have feet!" he exclaimed.

What a great idea. My drink came in a large goblet that made me feel like the lord of the manor.

While we were enjoying our drinks, my wife saw a picture of a bowl of tortilla soup for $7.50 and decided to try it along with her quesadilla.

As West Virginia and the University of North Carolina battled it out on TV and the owner's delightful little boy paid us a visit, our food arrived. My wife enjoyed her quesadilla and her soup. She added a bit of salsa to her soup, which contributed another touch of flavor.

My enchilada and chile relleno were tasty. I always enjoy seeing how different restaurants handle the egg part of the relleno. It is a batter that covers the cheese-stuffed chili. Mine did not taste "eggy." It was just right, allowing the flavor of the chile to come through.

The beans had flecks of their dark skins mixed in, which contributed to their pleasant texture and taste. The rice had the familiar reddish hue of "Spanish rice" that I like.

The boys were happy with their nachos and quesadilla and shared them with each other.

El Tapatio now serves breakfast until 2 p.m. from a menu that has many "American" breakfast choices, along with the traditional Mexican fare.

Like the regular menu, there are selections specially for kids. Lunch and dinner are listed on the same menu for the same price, and there are daily specials.

The move to the new building looks like a successful beginning for the new year.

— Richard Moeschl