At a cursory glance, it appears that the masses are quite fond of La Botana, a Tex-Mex restaurant with two Atlanta locations. Though they have a location up in Lawrenceville [which might actually be shuttered], most of the attention and the larger crowds seem to find their way to the Chamblee outpost. Stationed on the inside of I285 at the corner of N. Shallowford and Savoy Dr, you might think that this little cantina is situated next to a somewhat unassuming intersection.
In appearance alone, you’d be quite right. However, thanks to easy highway access, a few nearby office parks, and a reasonably well-populated residential community just a stones throw away, it’s not a complete surprise that La Botana draws a fairly heavy lunch crowd as well as its fair share of nighttime visitors. Aware of its existence for at least a couple of years, I finally decided to pull in for a noon pit stop.
The interior dining room is dominated by booths and reasonably inviting as these things go. The ceiling is a deep blue and the walls alternate between a shade of maize and what I’d guess one would call burnt orange. Brightly colored and festive artwork helps to complete the look along with a few painted birds and stain-glass ceiling lamps. Perhaps the most notable asset is the patio, which as you might expect, will fill up pretty good when the weather permits. All in, it’s a pretty typical style for a Tex-Mex establishment. Comfortable enough for most, if you can settle in at La Fonda or Nuevo Laredo, then La Botana shouldn’t be a problem. During subsequent poking around on the internet, I saw more than a few people identify La Botana as a dive. To each his own, but I’d be reticent if pressed to agree with that statement.
Even with a good number of patrons already seated, I still found a table without a problem. However, a short wait at La Botana (which means appetizer in Español) wouldn’t surprise me. While the wait staff darted between tables and skillfully avoided both patron and co-worker alike, even the most efficient of operations will get backed up from time to time. Even amongst the chaos, my kindly gentleman server did a good job of attending to his section throughout my stay.
While I perused both the lunch and dinner menus, my eye and ear began to drift. I watched carefully as plate after plate of straight forward Tex-Mex fare rolled off the line and onto the tables. With a heavily gentrified crowd on hand, phrases like “Mmmm … that’s so fresh” and “how authentic!” were used frequently by the multitudes. While authentic as it pertains to food and food culture is simply just a buzz term with no real place or meaning, this type of crowdsourcing helped frame the meal that was to come.
By the time I stopped “politely” snooping, I found my server at my side and the two of us engaged in those all too common exchanges where Spanish and English are swapped in and out like faces on your Swatch band. The menu was loaded with the typical taco+burrito+etc combos and a handful of full dishes that fit nicely inside the Tex-Mex envelope. Ultimately, I resigned myself to a chorizo quesadilla ($6.50) and single asada taco.
Not more than five-minutes later did I have myself a large plate of quesadilla, rice, and the ubiquitous stack of sliced lettuce, pico, and crema. I dug through that before turning my attention to the steak taco, obviously fortified by and cocooned inside of a large helping of tinfoil.
It’s about this time, especially without anyone to share in the social aspects of food consumption, that my attention turns specifically to the food on hand. Here, there wasn’t a great deal of soul searching to do. I don’t mean that as harshly as it may sound, but as rich chocolaty moles and intense poblanos aren’t used at La Botana, there wasn’t a great deal of palate research to conduct.
Predictably, the steak in the taco was a little chewy while most of the flavor came from the onions, peppers and au jus. Meanwhile, the chorizo was plentiful and noticeable and I was comfortably surprised to find the queso blanco used sparingly.
To elaborate on the predictability comment: it’s not uncommon to find that Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurants do a better job with chorizo than with steak. Chorizo is a pretty easy item to maintain quality control over while steak is much more delicate in both the storage and cooking stages. As one might guess, the chorizo at La Botana wasn’t particularly discernable from any other that you find in the Mexican markets we all know and love.
Ultimately, the meal was comfortably un-notable. While gourmands and foodie elitists my scoff at the idea of eating at a Tex-Mex restaurant patronized by Mr. & Mrs. Don Smith, I’ve always found that idea of little value.
I turned over less than $10 for a good bit of food in a friendly environment. Sure, this may not have been the a particularly delicious meal, but little about the experience leads me to believe that anyone in close proximity can’t go to La Botana and enjoy the company of those they are with.