When it comes to Mexican restaurants, readers are divided into two camps. No, wait; make that lots of camps.
There are those who are looking for Tex-Mex, those looking for California Mexican, those looking for New Mexican — which isn’t really Mexican at all, but Southwestern. And those looking for "authentic" Mexican, be it the food of Baja California, Jalisco, Michoacan, etc., etc. And anything that’s not the kind they grew up with isn’t "good" Mexican.
So where does Que Pasa fit in? Well, the roots of this small chain are in Bakersfield, Calif., but I wouldn’t really call it California Mexican because that usually refers to Southern California. So for now we’ll just call it Bakersfield Mexican. Split hairs all you want; the only thing I care about is that it serves the best Queso Fundido I’ve had in a very long time.
Queso Fundido ($5.25) is one of those things that seems so simple but is fraught with culinary land mines. It’s essentially cheese, to which peppers or chorizo — or, in the case of Que Pasa, even shrimp — may be added. The problem, though, is cheese, which is notoriously uncooperative in its melted state. As it cools even slightly, melted cheese tends to separate, solidify and get generally unpleasant, and then it’s no fun to eat.
Que Pasa says it starts by sauteing peppers, onions and tomato in butter before adding the cheese. Maybe it’s the preparation that makes the difference, maybe it’s the heavy skillet in which it’s served, but at any rate, this particular Queso Fundido, ordered au naturel, maintained a smooth, stretchy and very well-flavored (thanks to the blend of cheeses used and the peppers added) condition as we dipped into it with chips and stuffed it in our flour tortillas. And that alone was impressive.
Not that Que Pasa is a one-note wonder. Enchiladas Ahumadas ($10.50) were a nice variation on the chicken-cheese-or-beef theme — corn tortillas rolled around mesquite-smoke-flavored chicken. The predominant flavor was, as you can imagine, smoky, but it was brightened considerably by the sprightly notes of cilantro in the light cream sauce that cloaked it.
Even the requisite salsa and chips were elevated beyond the norm — the chips especially crisp, on the thinnish side and homemade-tasting, with a salsa that appeared to be based on chipotles in adobo for, again, a nice smoky flavor. We also had some guacamole ($6.95), prepared tableside by our waiter. It was chunky and well-seasoned, but what we particularly liked was that our affable waiter was exceptionally wiling to tailor it to our tastes — and even to come back and add whatever would guarantee that it was to our liking.
Fish tacos ($11.25) were decent enough, the sea bass (that great catch-all) not possessing a right-from-the-sea flavor, but not bad as these things go, with flavor contrast added by a chipotle-tinged tartar sauce, plus crunchy textural contrast in the form of cabbage. The soft tacos were accompanied by your basic rice, plus pot beans — pintos that had been stewed but not mashed and, most definitely, not refried. They were a nice change.
Service throughout was great, our very busy waiter telling us on more than one occasion that he’d be glad to adjust seasoning if we desired. The decor is fairly attractive — sort of rustic, with bright splashes of color here and there.
But as for me, I’d go back for the Queso Fundido alone.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella@ reviewjournal.com.HEIDI KNAPP RINELLAMORE COLUMNS
REVIEW what: Que Pasa Mexican Cafe where: 4090 S. Eastern Ave. (also at 1435 W. Craig Road) phone: 795-7272 overall: B+ food: B+ atmosphere: B- service: A- pluses: Affable service, some surprises on menu. minuses: Fish not as fresh as it could’ve been.