Dining With Denise Neil

Restaurant review: Los Compadres serves food you had on vacation

Los Compadres’ el pambaso is a popular Mexican street food that features bread dipped in red sauce, then filled with potatoes and chorizo.
Los Compadres’ el pambaso is a popular Mexican street food that features bread dipped in red sauce, then filled with potatoes and chorizo. The Wichita Eagle

Any time I get the chance to vacation in a Mexican resort town, I’m on the hunt for sopa Azteca, a rich soup that’s kind of a cross between tomato soup and tortilla soup, with big slices of avocado floating on top.

I haven’t been able to find the soup in Wichita, and my one attempt to make it at home was a miserable failure.

That’s why I was excited when Los Compadres opened in June at 3302 W. Central. Not only did it have sopa Azteca on the menu, it also had several other unusual offerings found more frequently in restaurants in Mexico than in restaurants in the United States – dishes like pozole, whole deep-fried catfish and el pambaso, which is a street sandwich that features bread soaked in a red guajillo chili sauce that’s then stuffed with chorizo and potatoes.

Plus, all of the food is served on gorgeous terra-cotta-colored and painted plates, adding to the feeling that I’m getting a hard-to-find taste of Cancun and Riviera Maya.

The restaurant is owned by Carlos Renteria and Jaime Martinez, who are both first-time restaurateurs. They wanted to open an authentic Mexican restaurant that’s family friendly, Renteria said.

Though several restaurants have come and gone from the little space since 2010, including Burger Barn, El Tenampa and Jr’s Tex-Mex Grill, this one is different enough that I hope it will have some staying power.

▪ ON THE MENU: The menu is populated with many of the aforementioned Mexican delicacies as well as lots of standard Tex-Mex fare, including flautas, chile rellenos, burritos, tacos, enchiladas, gorditas and tamales. Customers also can by barbacoa, which is shredded beef that’s seasoned and slow-cooked, for $12.49 a pound.

▪ DON’T-MISS DISHES: On separate visits, I dedicated myself to trying many of Los Compadres’ more unusual dishes, starting with that sopa Azteca that first caught my eye. It comes in two sizes, and I opted for the medium over the large. Though the soup wasn’t exactly what I remembered from vacation – its broth had more of a beef-stock base than a tomato base – it was rich and filling and full of shredded chicken and tortilla strips, topped with avocado, Mexican sour cream and chipotle peppers. I’ll continue to search for the soup I had in Mexico, but this will more than do in the meantime.

My other favorite dish at Los Compadres was one I’d never heard of – the el pambaso sandwich made with bread that’s soaked in red sauce before getting a chorizo and potato filling. This is not a pick-it-up-and-eat-it sandwich. It’s messy enough to require a knife and fork. But the bread was not soggy, and the potatoes offset the greasy, sometimes overpowering saltiness of the chorizo to perfectly balance the sandwich, both in flavor and texture.

I tried both the traditional street tacos, served on corn tortillas with choice of meat and a simple topping of chopped onion and cilantro, and the fried “taco Americano” stuffed with ground beef and topped with tomato, lettuce, cheese and sour cream. My choice of filling for the street taco was the restaurant’s juicy, finely shredded barbacoa, which was dripping with juices and flavor. And the fried flour taco was less greasy than many of its Wichita counterparts, featuring a fried tortilla shell that was extra crunchy.

Los Compadres is following a new trend I’ve noticed at Wichita Mexican restaurants: charging for chips and salsa. Theirs is $2.88. I didn’t order any but did ask for chips and guacamole, which was a bit high at $5.28, but the serving was generous and the waitress offered a refill of chips when we ran out.

My worst dish was the arracher a la parilla, which is grilled beef sirloin flap. The plate was pretty, but the meat was tough and bland. I tried slicing it up and putting it in the tortillas, rice, beans and guacamole that were served on the side, but that didn’t help much. We left most of it behind.

▪ AMBIENCE: The building doesn’t look like much from the outside but has been updated on the inside and has a new wood-looking floor and festive, colorful papel picado banners. The dining room is small and seats only about 45.

▪ PRICE RANGE: Appetizers are $2.88 to $5.79. Entrees are $4.49 to $12.99. Tacos are sold a la carte for $1.89 to $2.09 apiece.

▪ SERVICE: There’s one rather busy waitress staffing the dining room, but the owner comes out of the kitchen when he can to help out and chat with customers.

Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

Los Compadres

and a half out of four

Where: 3302 W. Central; 316-558-8848

Type of food: Mexican

Alcohol: No

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays

Website: www.loscompadresmexicangrillwichita.com