Grub Scout: 3 Amigos Mexican Restaurant serves up familiar favorites

3 Amigos Mexican Restaurant

Food: 4 stars

Service:3 stars

Atmosphere: 3 and a half stars

Overall: 3 and a half stars

Address: 603 E. Emory Rd.

Phone: 865-938-9303

Full bar service

First come, first served

— Sometimes the thought process involved in my selection of a restaurant amounts to nothing more than, “I’m in the mood for (fill in the blank).” This week, I was craving Mexican food, and I had heard about the recent opening of 3 Amigos in Powell, so The Grub Spouse and I headed out that way for a Saturday lunch.

We found the restaurant in a new-ish shopping center not far off Interstate 75. Inside, the multiple dining rooms have as much a Southwestern feel to them as they do a traditional Mexican motif. The darkly stained wooden booths and tables and the faux stucco walls are less thematically suggestive than the abundance of sombreros and serapes I typically encounter at Mexican-food establishments.

We could tell right off the bat that they were understaffed that day. There were only three servers on the floor, and we immediately sensed urgency in the way they went about their duties.

The menu offers no shockers. The lineup is fairly typical of what you would find at any comparable eatery showcasing Mexican cuisine. House specialties include several varieties of steak, carnitas, carne asada and ceviche de camaron (seafood). The Spouse was drawn to the Especial La Casa ($9.99), which consists of strips of grilled chicken and steak, served with a medley of stir-fried Southwest-style veggies and accompanied by tortillas.

Other entrees are based on chicken and seafood, such as the Burrito Acapulco and the arroz con pollo. Vegetarian dishes that rely heavily on cheese and beans are served, and I also spotted vegetarian fajitas, chimichangas and a 10-inch quesadilla rellena.

Naturally, traditional Mexican standbys like burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos and chimichangas are available, either as a la carte items or featured in more elaborate entrée form. For example, the Burritos 3 Amigos Deluxe is made with shrimp, while enchiladas are prepared with a variety of sauces, including ranchera, suiza, verde and roja.

While there was a tempting list of moderately priced lunch specials available, I also stuck to the dinner menu, going with the make-your-own-combo option. Selections include chalupa, burrito, taco, enchilada, cheese quesadilla, chimichanga, chile relleno, tostada and tamale. Each item is made with your choice of beef, chicken or pork and is accompanied by the ubiquitous refried beans and rice. You can choose two items for $7.79 or three for $8.49. I went for a trio featuring a beef burrito, a beef enchilada and a chicken chimichanga.

Considering how busy it was, we didn’t wait unreasonably long for our food, and I enjoyed both selections very much. I’ve tasted a lot of average Mexican food around here, and I was pleased with the flavors I discovered in both entrees. I even thought the tortillas had an authentically fresh taste to them. The meats in The Spouse’s special were nicely seasoned, and I took special note of the well-ground beef and the shredded chicken in my combo meal. The chimichanga wasn’t as crisply deep-fried as I usually find, but it was still worth the effort.

Unfortunately, the three servers were simply spread too thin among what I estimated to be at least 15 seated tables. As a result, we received no follow-up service and no drink refills, and it took us quite a while to get our to-go boxes and bill. I sincerely believe they were busting it just to keep their heads above water. Had the restaurant been adequately staffed, I don’t think those service-related issues would have been a factor.

So menu-wise, I think you might find 3 Amigos worth friending. Although here’s hoping the service staff sends out a few more friend requests in the near future.

Bottom Line: This new Mexican food restaurant in Powell serves up a familiar lineup of south-of-the-border favorites.

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