I enjoyed a late afternoon meal with my mother on a recent Sunday at the El Charolais Mexican Grill located near the Kroger on West State of Franklin in Johnson City.
This local chain operates two restaurants in Johnson City, as well as one in Elizabethton on Broad Street. The restaurant we visited is the oldest of the three restaurants. After a recent renovation, this location also opened an impressive new bar.
After we were seated at one of the restaurant’s booths, a server arrived with menus and complementary toasted tortilla chips and salsa. We enjoyed these items as we scanned the menu. I found the salsa extra zesty, but my mother described it as “very spicy.” It definitely had some kick to it.
The dining area offers seating at booths as well as at tables, which are equipped with black chairs upholstered with blue and red cushions. The long bar features high-backed stools with red cushions. The orange sponge-painted walls and faux brick arches offer an attractive, casual dining environment enhanced with ornamental touches such as hanging ceramic parrots and several framed paintings of Mexican scenes. There are two wall-mounted televisions in the bar area, which were tuned to sporting events, as well as a couple of televisions in the dining area. A festive mix of Mexican pop music played in the background as we studied the menus.
El Charolais offers typical Mexican fare, including a selection of fajitas, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas and combination dinners. Those wanting a little extra to start off the meal can order such items as Nachos Supremos, Cheese Dip, Guacamole Dip and Chori Queso. We stuck with the chips and salsa, which was refilled for us upon request.
The El Charolais menu also offers some diverse specialty options, including steaks, chicken, seafood and pork. For those who want a more authentic Mexican cuisine, devote some extra attention to the section titled “Muy Mexicano,” which offers some more traditional versions of tacos, burritos and tortas, a type of Mexican sandwich served on crusty white sandwich rolls. For meats, these items offer steak, pork and chicken, as well as Pescado (Fried Fish), Lengua (Tongue), Tripa (Tripe) and Chicharrón (Pork Rinds). I’m fond of the Chorizo, or spicy sausage. A co-worker, Max Hrenda, also turned me on to the Carne Enchilada Burrito, which is also listed on the “Muy Mexicano” menu. This is one tasty burrito!
My mother invariably orders either fajitas or tacos. On this occasion, she considered the Fajitas Del Mar, which offers shrimp and octopus grilled with a medley of vegetables, as well as the Pollo (Chicken) Tacos. She decided on the Chicken Fajitas, which are prepared with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.
I considered several offerings, including Camarones (Shrimp) a la Diabla and Carnitas, which are cooked pork chunks served with rice, beans and pico de gallo. On this visit, I tried the Pina Loca, which is a dish listed on the menu as a new offering. This dish starts with a half of a pineapple shell, which has been hollowed out and filled with grilled chicken, shrimp, steak and chorizo, onions, bell peppers and cubes of pineapple.
A minor, but quickly corrected, mistake involved my mom being delivered a Chicken Chimichanga instead of her Chicken Fajitas. Otherwise, service was prompt, friendly and attentive.
The food tasted great, with ample attention given to preparation and making sure each dish was seasoned well. My Pina Loco was an admirable merger of sweet (grilled pineapple) and zesty (chorizo) flavors. My mother also enjoyed her Chicken Fajitas.
The portions were ample, and some of our meals went home in carryout boxes to enjoy later.
If you desire to finish the meal with dessert, a variety of sweet options abound. Some of the choices include Sopapillas, Fried Ice Cream, Chocolate Chimichanga and Churros, as well as Flan, a traditional caramel custard, and Xango, a cheesecake chimichanga filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate and honey.
The eatery also provides a special menu of child-sized plates, as well as some salads and vegetarian options. With such a diverse menu, even picky eaters shouldn’t have a difficult time finding something tasty. If you go, let them know they came recommended.
AT A GLANCE: El Charolais Mexican Grill, 1805 W. State of Franklin, Johnson City. 928-0929. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Dinner entrees range from $5.95-$15.95. Credit cards accepted. Carryout available. Full service bar available.