I went out and sampled some of my favorite foods, enchiladas, from three of Howard County's newer Mexican joints and here is how it all worked out...
Contender #1: Enchiladas de Mole Colorado at Azul 17
Azul 17 is a fairly new Mexican restaurant just off of Snowden River Parkway, near the Supreme Sports Club (9400 Snowden River Parkway). They carry a huge range of tequilas and pride themselves on their high-end bar selection and artsy look. They also host salsa dancing lessons and contests in the evenings. :)
One of the selling points at Azul 17 is the made-to-order, tableside-prepared, guacamole. Here, when you order guacamole, they bring out a cart with all of the available ingredients on it, and then prepare the guacamole right there. This tastes amazing. Quite simply, the freshest guacamole you will ever have and it is delicious.
After finishing, I ordered the Enchiladas de Mole Colorado, which are described as "three corn tortillas cooked with Oazacan red chili sauce rolled with shredded beef Barbacoa. Served with mole coloradito, shredded lettuce, queso fresco, and crema." I got mine without the creme, as I don't like creme on my meat-based dishes. The meal included three enchiladas and cost $14.
The three shells were centered on the plate and surrounded with red chili sauce. Topping them was lettuce and crumbles of queso fresco. This resulted in a very good-looking meal that I wanted to dive right into. I had a picture of this but there were some technical difficulties and I couldn't get it saved. So, you will need to use your imagination. But trust me, it is a good looking meal that is presented very well.
The shells themselves were cooked perfectly, not crispy but not soggy or bland either, just like an enchilada should be. They were overstuffed with shredded beef. The barbacoa itself was not very spicy and relied on the mole mixing with the red chili sauce, which provided a good, strong, flavor that was not overpowering. I would have preferred spicier beef, but the red chili and mole combination made up for that. The queso fresco that was sprinkled on top was very creamy and tasted good, but there simply was not enough of it to add anything to the overall dish. The three enchilada portion was the perfect amount, considering I had eaten some guacamole previously; when done, I was stuffed.
I think this plate of enchiladas was very good. The meat was a little bland by itself but the red chili and mole combination provided a good, strong, flavor. This, the red chili and mole combination, was really the heart of the meal and makes this dish unique...and delicious. I would have preferred more cheese, as the minimal amount provided, while very tasty, did not add much to the meal simply due to its portion size. Overall, very tasty!
Contender #2: Ground Beef Enchiladas at El Hidalgo
El Hidalgo is a brand new "Tex-Mex Restaurant" in Elkridge with a pretty extensive menu that has some unique Mexican and Latin American options on it. It is located off of Marshalee Drive, in the same shopping center as Pazani Trattoria (6060 Marshalee Drive).
I got the guacamole here before my meal as well...while not prepared right then and there, it is very tasty and you get a very large portion for the price (if you're going to be eating a meal here, the small guac is more than enough for two people to share). I ordered the enchiladas with ground beef. This came with three enchiladas and they are topped with lettuce, queso, and cream (which, again, I did not get). Here, the meal comes with an order of Mexican rice, some refined beans, and some radish slices, and the whole plate costs $12.
|Enchiladas with Ground Beef at El Hidalgo in Elkridge.|
The dish is presented very well. The three shells are front-and-center on the plate, with queso on top and rice and beans off to each side. The radish slices are scatered on top and there is a orange slice that shows off the whole thing. Overall, this is a really cool presentation.
The shells were somewhat flaky, often separating into layers as I cut them with my fork. This, combined with the loose ground beef in the enchiladas, resulted in a somewhat messy eating experience (which, honestly, should be expected with enchiladas). The shells were full of very well-seasoned ground beef that was quite spicy and delicious...just like good Mexican-style ground beef should be. Under the shells was the red chili sauce (with just a bit cooked into the shells themselves) that was tasty and not too spicy...it actually could have been a little more spicy but the seasoning in the beef complemented it well, so that balances out.
The cheese on top was not as creamy as most queso fresco that I have had is; it seemed more like it came from a block of solid, non-creamy, cheese that was shredded. However, once you put it in your mouth, it dissolved nicely and had a very rich and creamy flavor to it. There was also a good portion of cheese for the plate and this complemented the spicy flavor of the ground beef, and the flaky texture of the shells, very nicely. The portion size was good, but I did not eat the rice or the beans...the large guacamole that I split before eating this, and the three enchiladas themselves, did me in. With the rice and beans, you get a very full meal for the price.
Overall, this was a delicious meal. The ground beef was nice and spicy and the flakiness of the shells was good. The red chili could have been somewhat spicier, but that was complemented by the spicy beef, which worked out well. The cheese, while not as creamy as most, was quite good and you get a good portion of it. Overall, a good choice when you're looking for beef enchiladas!
Contender #3: Beef Enchiladas at El Nayar
What's this? A third contender? Did they just become food versus food versus food? Yep, it sure did! El Nayar is a restaurant in Elkridge with a fairly standard menu. It is located right off US1, just about a half mile from the intersection with MD100. It's next to the Subway in a two-restaurant strip-mall building (6790 Business Parkway, Elkridge).
Here, I ordered the Supreme Enchiladas. This was composed of four enchiladas with shredded barbacoa beef. The menu describes these as covered in a red Huajillo sauce and topped with sour creme and cheese. I ordered mine without the sour creme, as I still don't like the stuff. The plate came with a large portion of rice and refined beans, a good size scoop of guacamole, and a small (which is really not that small) salad. The salad was pretty basic but tasty, even with dressing that came in packets. This plate costs $14.
|Supreme Enchiladas at El Nayar in Elkridge.|
The presentation is pretty basic. The four shells are off to the side. The promised red Huajillo sauce was not apparent; the enchiladas were served dry but the shells looked like they had been cooked with some sort of red sauce. There was also no cheese to be seen (more on that in a bit). The plate looks like something you'd get at a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant.
The shells were tasty and absolutely had been cooked with some sort of sauce. It was hard to narrow down the flavor but they were somewhat sweet, with cinnamon flavor. They did not fall apart very well with my fork and I had to cut them with a knife to eat them. The shells had both a small amount of barbacoa beef and some melted cheese in them. The smaller amount of meat and the cheese stuck together well and this results in clean bites once the shells were cut.
The beef itself was not very spicy and the small amount of both beef and cheese, combined with the lack of sauce, resulted in some enchiladas that did not have too much flavor. The four small shells did leave me not as full as I would have liked. The guacamole provided with the plate was very good and tasted salty, which is a good trait for guac. Overall, these enchiladas needed more flavor; the lack of a sauce on them, combined with the small amount of meat inside, left me wanting more.
Let's compare the various aspects of these three dishes.
Shells -> The shells at Azul were perfect, the ones are El Hidalgo were very flaky, which is very good tasting but harder to eat, and the ones at El Nayar were sweet. Azul wins this one, hands down.
Meat -> The meat at Azul was plentiful but somewhat bland, El Hidalgo's was plentiful and very tasty with a wonderful spicy flavoring, and El Nayar's was very sparse and bland. El Hidalgo wins.
Sauce -> Azul's sauce was a good red chili sauce mixed with a delicious mole, El Hidalgo had a good red chili sauce, and El Nayar has no apparent sauce. Azul's combination wins hands down.
Meat + Sauce -> Meat and sauce are meant, in these dishes, to be eaten together. Let's go for a composite battle result. Azul's more bland beef with the red chili and mole was perfect...this is what I want when I get enchiladas. El Hidalgo's spicy meat with red chili was tasty, and Nayar's lack of a real sauce was a negative to the meal. Comparing the combos...Azul wins. Their combination of meat, red chili sauce, and mole, is delicious. It's the real deal.
Cheese -> Azul had excellent queso but not enough. El Hidalgo had queso that was good, but not quite as fresh-tasting as Azul, I you got more. El Nayar had a cheese mix melted and cooked into the enchiladas. This one is hard, but I'll give El Hidalgo the edge as their cheese was quite delicious and I got a really good portion.
Sides -> Here, El Nayar wins on value. With my plate, I got a lot of rice, beans, guacamole, and a salad. This is a lot of good food included in the price. Along different lines, Azul wins on quality and uniqueness. The guacamole appetizer, while not included in my meal, was awesome. I cannot stress how good this was.
Presentation -> Azul's was very nicely done, Hidalgo's was slightly more artistic and appetizer, and El Nayar's was somewhat basic. El Hidalgo wins.
Overall Winner -> So, which meal was the best? It was pretty close between Azul 17 and El Hidalgo. I would enjoy either meal from either of these anytime! El Nayar's meal was more basic, and would really benefit from a good sauce or mole, but I'd happily eat it again. The winner, in a close differential between first and second place, is Azul 17! Their awesome shells, combined with their unique and tasty combination of red chili and Colorado mole, makes for an amazing meal and the tableside guacamole is bonus points.
Thanks for reading! I hope you go and sample these dishes from all three local establishments. I'll be back to all three...and look forward to trying some tacos and other Mexican delicacies!
Thanks Jeff, for that great Food versus Food... versus Food! ;) What great reviews of three excellent spots in the HoCo (hocoblogs@@@). Don't forget to check out Jeff's blogs, linked here and here.
Are you interested in guest posting a food versus food battle? Want to wax poetic about your favorite eats, or come up with a reason to venture into new territory? Shoot me an email at swimwriterun at gmail dot com.
Where is your favorite spot for enchiladas? Do you have an opinion about the spots reviewed this week? Leave a comment below!