If you have a craving for a Mexican feast but can't afford the trip south-of-the-border, no problem: Just visit El Salto -- in Brooklyn Park -- for a memorable meal and a little excitement for your taste buds.
El Salto, which translates as "The Jump," is appropriately named; the place is always jumping. The restaurant opened in August 1995, about a quarter-mile south of the Brooklyn Fire Station, and is owned -- along with another El Salto in Pikesville -- by Silvia Wade and Paul Loza.
The Brooklyn Park establishment is decorated with murals of scenes of Mexico and native items such as sombreros. With the vine-decorated ceiling, it's almost like sitting in an open courtyard of a hacienda.
The seating capacity is about 80, and after 6 p.m. there's usually a line, because the food is so popular. But never fear -- you don't stand for long, thanks to a quick table turn-around time.
As you're being seated, you are greeted by one of the waiters bearing a basket of just-fried tortillas with spicy (but not too hot) salsa.
Selecting from the large menu can take awhile. The usual dishes of Tex-Mex chains are available, but the food does not taste the same. All the food is prepared on site and is authentic Mexican.
Not all the food is hot -- most dishes are mild -- but a bottle of hot sauce is on the table.
You can order individual items like extra tortillas, shredded cheese or sour cream (60 cents to $2.85), vegetarian dishes ($6.50) or combination dinners (like one burrito, one enchilada and one taco for $5.75).
For the very hungry, special dinners for two are available -- like Fajitas Texanas at $17.99, with sliced beef, chicken and shrimp with bell peppers, onions, guacamole, two orders of fried beans, Spanish rice, two salads and an order of tortillas.
On this visit (one of five, I confess), I had Pollo Loco -- chicken slices over lettuce with sour cream, guacamole, cheese and tortillas, and Spanish rice on the side. Husband Jon had Quesadillas Rellenas, a tortilla grilled and stuffed with cheese, beef and fried beans, served with the rice, lettuce, guacamole and sour cream.
Our feast cost less than $30, with a drink and dessert.
Be sure to save room for one of the three dessert items. Fried ice cream is one of my favorites. The others are sopapillas (floured tortilla topped by melted butter, honey and cinnamon) and a Mexican custard flan.
Lunch specials are available daily, and children's menus are available.
Where: 5513 Ritchie Highway, Brooklyn Park; 410-789-1621
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers, $2-$5; entrees, $5.75-$17.99
Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners Club, Carte Blanche
Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven