Ten years ago, almost to the day, the Marin family opened its first fine cuisine Mexican restaurant in our area, Los Sarapes in Chalfont. It received high praise and instant success.
Building on that success, the family added El Sarape in Blue Bell (Center Square), and most recently, its third restaurant in May 2005. While I had already dined in the former two, enjoying both occasions, I had never been to the newest and smallest, Los Sarapes in Horsham, on Horsham Road near Limekiln Pike.
So, my LDC (Lovely Dining Companion) and I decided we were overdue, and paid it a visit on a midweek evening. We were enchanted upon entering the relatively small (seating about 40) and tastefully decorated dining room. We were taken by the room’s coziness and its warm feel, in part the result of its warm candlelit glow, the walls’ sunny colors, and the tables clothed in midnight blue, topped by sheets of orange-gold Kraft paper and standing folded linen napkins.
The noise level was moderate, making it easy to hear the Spanish spoken by the serving staff and the soft, lilting ambient Latin music.
Los Sarapes could serve as a suburban Mecca for tequila aficionados, having one of the largest—over 50—selections of this spirit, distilled below the border from the blue agave cactus. The house margarita, made with middle-shelf tequila, was adequate.
Surprisingly, no beers—Mexican or otherwise—are offered on draft, but a good dozen bottled Mexican beers are listed. I readily quaffed a very good one, El Tecate, presented with a lime wedge and one of those tall skinny beer glasses.
Let’s talk about the food. This is where you go when you graduate from Tex-Mex high school, having majored in tacos and burritos, and go on to higher Mexican cuisine college. For those who need a few college prep courses, the menu offers fajitas, enchiladas and chile rellenos.
If there is one thing to go to Los Sarapes “university” for, it is its magnificent signature entrée, named “Huachinango,” a superb two-pound whole red snapper, cooked in extra-virgin olive oil to a crispy (on the outside) golden brown, served upright on the platter as though still swimming. A dinnertime special, the dish is available in four distinct styles: al Mojo—with sliced garlic; al Mango—with sweet tequila-mango sauce; Veracruz style—with tomato, onion, pepper and olives; and Imperial—with seafood medley, the latter served only by special request.
We shared the large-enough-for-two Huachinango al Mango ($30). It was the kind of wonderful culinary experience that sticks in the memory for months.
One caution—it is the whole fish: head, eyes, fins, tail, bones intact. I happen to love fish this way, taking it apart, picking the sweet flesh off the bones, eating the crunchy outer skin. I know this is not for everyone. So if you want to savor this sweet white succulent delight, but don’t want to do the surgery, go on a midweek night, and ask the server for help filleting it—on weekends, they are too busy to do this.
We also enjoyed an ultra-rich, thick, earthy hot cup of black bean soup ($3 per cup, $6 per bowl). It was mildly spiced, so I requested and drizzled in some salsa verde, a rather mild and tasty hot sauce. I was a bit taken aback when I saw later that I had been nominally charged for it. Everything is a la carte, even the excellent homemade tortilla chips and pico de gallo salsa ($3).
Our appetizer, El Indio Azteca ($9), was a classic flour tortilla filled with shredded chicken, melted Chihuahua cheese, and mild poblana pepper, garnished with guacamole and cilantro. It resembled a quesadilla, only thicker and meatier, and was quite filling and satisfying.
We had enough to eat by sharing these three courses; the food bill came to only $40 (not including drinks, tax and tip), notwithstanding the all-a-la-carte menu.
The lunch menu is more casual, including tacos and burritos not offered on the dinner menu. So just recently, I took my son with me for lunch.
We shared the Guacamole Real ($5 for a small, $10 for a large) made fresh daily. I love guacamole and always order it when I go Mexican. Here, it was very smooth and creamy, and again not very hot and spicy.
My son chose a vegetarian enchilada ($7) with hot mole (a chocolate-based sauce) topped with onion, sour cream and cheese, and with rice and refried beans. He happily scarfed down every morsel of it.
I was also highly pleased with my delicious plate of Camarones with Crema de Espinaca y Jalapeno ($9): shrimp marinated in garlic, tequila and Mexican herbs, sautéed with creamed pureed spinach and jalapeno pepper, and served with rice and salad. The shrimp were superb, and the cream spinach sauce was a triumph.
For the sweet tooth, Los Sarapes offers postres (desserts) such as Helado d' Mango ($6), a mango mousse with chunks of mango; Churros ($6), flour tortillas with banana cheesecake; and Flan ($5), a caramel custard.
Overall rating: mmmm (out of 5 m’s) for excellent haute Mexican
Location: 1116 Horsham Road, Ambler
Cuisine: Fine Mexican
Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.
Dinner prices: Appetizers, soups and salads, $3 to $11; entrées, $14 to $32
Ambiance: Casual, cozy, warm, tastefully decorated, enchanting.
Reservations: Strongly suggested on weekends
Credit cards: All major accepted
Alcoholic beverages: Full-service bar, great tequila selection, bottled beers, wines
Happy hour: Tuesday through Friday, 5 to 6 p.m.
Special features: Midweek discounts off food and drink, a children's menu
To contact Mitch Davis, email MdavisMainCourse@aol.com.