Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!”

I woke up last Thursday in a great mood. It was the best night of sleep I had had in weeks. I was happy. Not the brand of happy you feel when you’ve just hung up the phone from talking to your mother and you’re thankful they’re in Florida now and you’re in Flint because she’s just announced that she’s gonna smother your father with a couch pillow because yesterday he drank beer and schnapps all afternoon and passed out in the Lazy Boy and she was stuck cooking dinner for his sorry ass, and she has to have dinner finished and on the table by four thirty because that’s the way she’s done it for the last fifty years. No, I was feeling a much deeper happiness, the kind you feel when you know you’re not going to visit your parents in Florida for another four months, and this time you’re taking your sister, so you’ll have a witness to the insanity that you’ll surely be exposed to.

Stephanie and I were having lunch later in the day, and I just had a feeling it was going to be a joyous occasion. The company is always good and we usually share some pretty amazing gossip about our co-workers, but I wanted to choose a restaurant that would match the good company and that would match my good mood. I thought for a nano-second about going to Casa de Linda, on Dort Highway (I think it was Mexicali Café at one time), since we haven’t been there yet. The last time I drove by the place, I didn’t get the “happy vibe” I was looking for on this particular day, so I backed away from going there (for now anyway; we’ll put it on our 2010 list) and settled on the happiest place I could conjure up: El Cozumel.

With its happy colored, high-back chairs, booths, walls, and art, how could one not find some level of happiness here? And the staff, from the busboys, to the servers, to the thirty-something owner, are all blissfully happy as well. I knew, as the smiley waiter led us to an intimate, well lit booth, that we had come to the right place.

I don’t even know how this is possible, but the menu is happy too. The assortment of Quesos on the Appetizer page was titled Queso Fundito. Really, I’m not making this up. You can order your “fun cheese” with chicken, shrimp, beef, or Chorizo. We chose Chorizo. This was the second time in as many weeks that we had seen a Chorizo Queso on a menu. Prior to that, I had never known this combination existed. If you remember, I gave last week’s version extremely high marks, so El Cozumel had a very high bar set before it. How did they do? Well, while Steph and I were both pleased with it, the Chorizo didn’t quite measure up to the fresh, spicy Flavor of Nuevo Vallarta’s. That said, it was quite good and is well worth ordering. Because the portions are so plentiful, you’ll even have extra to spoon over the top of your entrée. Unless you’re vegetarian, of course.

Veggie plates, by the way, are plentiful too at El Cozumel. In a second coincidental comparison to last week’s menu, El Cozumel also lists its vegetarian options with letters of the alphabet. Options A-H include such appetizing choices as cheese and mushroom quesadillas, chile poblanos, and spinach quesadillas with rice. Or you could go all out and get the Veggie Fajita which, according to the menu, is “a healthy mix of mushrooms, bell peppers, green onions, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Served with beans and three warm tortillas.” Most of the lunch entrees come with beans or rice.

My rice was actually stuffed into my big fat happy lunch special #11: Hot and Spicy Burrito. (There were 15 other lunch specials to choose from.) Mine consisted of a flour tortilla filled with chicken beef, beans and rice. But wait! There’s More! Then the whole thing is covered with beef tips, salsa ranchera, cheese and sour cream. It was way too much food, but it was so good I couldn’t stop eating it and went on far longer than I should have. In the end, I still left a mound of it uneaten. It wasn’t at all hot and spicy, but once I dumped some of the “fun cheese” and the zippy house salsa on it, it was spicy enough. The house salsa was actually better than the hotter version, which was hot enough up front but lacked a significant bottom to it. I’ll explain what I mean by that later if anyone is interested.

(I was so absorbed in my own happiness, I have long since forgotten what Stephanie ordered. In my defense, I just called her office to ask her (I’m all class, aren’t I?), but she’s in the middle of an office holiday party and not taking calls right now). So let’s say she had the Enchiladas Rancheras Trio, “a big plate of enchiladas—one cheese, one chicken, and one bean—all topped with shredded cheese and red sauce. Served with a salad, guacamole, sour cream, and your choice of beans or rice.” Let’s also say they were fantastic, but Stephanie made them even fantastic(er) by dousing them with that delicious house salsa.

Whoever designed the menu here must have been in a very festive mood (or was drinking festive margaritas—El Cozumel has a full bar, including beer, wine, and mixed drinks. If you’re a beer drinker, I highly recommend the Pacifico. ) How many menus have you seen with features like Plato Loco, Terrific Tacos, Burrito Marino, or Tostaguac (not even sure what this one is, but you can order one or two at a time)?

El Cozumel is also very kid friendly. In fact, kids might have more fun eating here than at, say, Chuck E. Cheese (God that’s an awful place). This menu has a special section reserved for Bambinos, and what kid wouldn’t want to try a Sincronizada, a ham and cheese quesadilla with French fries!

I walked out of El Cozumel feeling like Stephanie and I had just been the special guests at a lunch time Fiesta. The next time you’re hungry and in a funk, I highly recommend this place. It will totally cheer you up and fill your gut with a rainbow of pleasurable flavors.


  1. What is 'bear wine'? It sounds like something only I would want, and want it I do. I can't wait. Was it (the bear wine) expensive?

  2. Oh brother, you've never lived until you had bear wine. (I'm still laughing my butt off).

  3. The house salsa was actually better than the hotter version, which was hot enough up front but lacked a significant bottom to it. I’ll explain what I mean by that later if anyone is interested.

    I'm interested! What does it mean?

  4. I have eaten here a couple times, and they serve good food at pretty reasonable prices for the specials.

  5. That first paragraph knocked my bloomin socks off. Wowza, baby.

  6. I love El Cozumel! Great food, and they pretend my Spanish is decent despite all evidence to the contrary.