Critic's star breakdown
- Food: 4 stars (out of five)
- Service: 4
- Atmosphere: 3.5
- Overall: 4
I got tipped off recently to a Mexican-food restaurant in Powell that supposedly served up some decent grub at fair prices. I checked out online reviews of La Palma de Oro in advance, and one review site gave it overwhelming positive votes, although a couple of the written reviews were not exactly flattering of the service. My tipster had experienced no service-related issues, so my curiosity and my craving for Mexican food sent The Grub Spouse and me north.
The restaurant was doing a brisk business for a weeknight. When we walked in, there was evidence of neither a host station nor a "seat yourself" sign, so we stood there clueless for a few moments before a server caught our eye and indicated that we may sit anywhere. We took a booth and within seconds, someone was placing salsa and chips under our faces and taking our drink orders. In addition to regular salsa, La Palma also serves you a complimentary bowl of yummy bean-and-queso dip.
The menu offers the standard Mexican-food categories, including burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, quesadillas and house specialties featuring beef, chicken, pork and seafood. There are also sections of salads, lunch-only meals and vegetarian options. And, of course, you can get the standard array of combination dinners ($6.75) that max out all the mathematical ways to team up tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chiles rellenos and the like.
At the individual item level, however, I thought the menu did a good job of offering interesting choices within each category. For example, the Burrito Grande serves up two tortillas filled with beans, shrimp and veggies, while the Huevos Con Chorizo blends scrambled eggs with Mexican sausage and serves it with rice, beans and tortillas.
I was tempted to try the La Palma Super — a behemoth of a meal featuring five enchiladas stuffed with chicken, beef tips, bean, cheese and beef, respectively. I also thought I might get a wide sampling from the Special La Palma, which includes a chalupa, chile relleno, beef taco, enchilada, burrito, rice and beans.
Instead, the Burritos Deluxe ($6.75) stood out in my burrito-craving brain. That's one chicken-and-beans burrito and one beef-and-beans burrito served with lettuce, tomato and sour cream. The fajita-lovin' Spouse got the Texas Fajitas — a combination of beef, chicken and shrimp cooked with tomatoes, onions and bell peppers and served with guacamole salad, refried beans and a side of tortillas ($8).
Our orders came out lightning quick. Seriously, we spent more time deciding than they spent preparing. We were cautioned that the plates were hot, and the fajita innards were, in fact, sizzling as the generously sized meals were presented to us.
I was very pleased with both selections. The bean-to-meat ratio in the burritos was just right, with the chicken and beef edging out the beans in proportion. The flavors were distinctive and spot-on, while the veggies, sour cream topping and tomatillo sauce made the meal a festival of hot and cold, smooth and crunchy.
The fajitas were also quite good. The three meats blended in smoky concert and worked surprisingly well together, prepared in generous portions along with the chopped, grilled veggies. The Spouse used up the two tortillas served and had a ton of filling and topping left over, so we asked for more tortillas to go and went home with a substantial next-day lunch.
We're usually not big on Mexican-restaurant desserts unless it's something compelling and different, so we passed on their selection of sopapillas, fried ice cream and flan. But I am happy to report that my concerns about sloppy service went totally unfounded, and in fact, I give La Palma de Oro solid marks on customer attention and promptness of service, from drink refills to plate clearing to Styrofoam to-go box delivery.
Every neighborhood in Knoxville has a Mexican restaurant like La Palma de Oro, but if you're in the Powell area, this one would certainly be worth a neighborly visit.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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