El Potro Mexican Cafe & Cantina
2 out of 5 stars
Location: Bonner Springs, Kansas (in the old Mazzio’s building west-northwest of the K-7/US-73 and I-70 interchange)
A couple of our friends mentioned that a new Mexican restaurant had opened recently in Bonner Springs, Kansas. El Potro took over the old, long empty Mazzio’s Pizza building. Terry and I made a quick trip to Nebraska Furniture Mart early yesterday evening and decided to try the cafe on the way home.
The parking lot was packed but we found an open spot near the front door. The restaurant had no waiting area, so a dozen or so people were crammed in the corridor between the door and the hostess stand waiting to be seated. The hostess took down our name and told us the wait would only be 10-15 minutes. A few minutes later, one of the servers asked those waiting if they’d like to be seated at the bar for dinner and we opted to take him up on that offer.
We were seated at the bar and a server took our drink order. My husband ordered Pepsi and I ordered iced tea without the ice. Another server came back to us and told Terry they were out of Pepsi. He asked for Mountain Dew instead and received it promptly. I was brought a glass of cloudy unsweetened iced tea. I asked the server to wipe the bar as it had some sticky substance on it that I didn’t care to run my fingers, hands or arms through by accident.
We were served chips with salsa and a warm white queso sauce. I did not try the latter as I do not voluntarily eat cheese, especially white queso. Terry tried it and reported that it had an odd aftertaste. The salsa was mediocre at best, and tasteless most of the time.
We didn’t see our server again for several minutes. I perused the overly long menu (6-8 large pages of small print) and found a dish similar to one I really enjoy at our local favorite Mexican restaurant (La Caretta in Lansing). At ten minutes past seven o’clock, our server returned to take our order. I ordered a chicken fajita chimichanga. Terry order a steak fajita burrito. I asked out the ‘gravy sauce’ mentioned on the menu and my server said it was red ranchero sauce. I said that was fine. Terry’s also listed a ranchero sauce for his burrito.
While we were waiting on our food, the second server informed Terry that they got the Pepsi working in their soda machine. She replaced his Mountain Dew with a Pepsi. A couple of other servers and a bus boy brought over a tray of silverware and the container holding recently cleaned silverware from a dishwasher and placed them next to Terry and began wiping down the silverware and rolling them up in napkins. Strike one.
The bar we sat at did not actually have a bartender in attendance. No one person dedicated to people who might have wanted some kind of cocktail before dinner or just to hangout and watch CNN which was playing muted above the bar without closed captioning. No shelves had been installed behind the bar to house the liquor, which was crammed on every available flat surface, which happened to be a refrigerator which a frozen margarita machine also on top of it. The servers had to double as bartenders. Strike two.
I flagged down our server a few minutes after placing our order because I had forgot to ask for black beans instead of the standard refried beans. She thought that change could be made without issue.
Thirteen minutes after we placed our order, our food arrived on very hot plates (standard operating procedure for most Mexican restaurants). Terry’s burrito was drowned in an off-white sauce that looked nothing like the red sauce he was expecting. He tasted it and reported that it tasted something like a Béchamel Mornay sauce. I dug into my chimichanga and ate about half of it. Contrary to the menu description, I could not taste any fajita seasoning on the chicken or the vegetables. I was surprised to find a zucchini among the peppers and onions, which was a refreshing change, although bland at best like the rest of the chimichanga. The black beans were also bland and disappointing, especially compared to the ones I like to consume at La Carreta.
Terry and I both stopped eating at about half way through our respective items. It then took us several minutes before our server noticed that we were finished. She did not offer us dessert options. I really wanted to try the sopapillas, as one of my friends had said they were very good, but by this point, Terry and I just wanted to leave the crowded cafe. I flagged down a different server and asked her if she could run our credit card but she said our original server would have to do it. She flagged her down and a few minutes later she returned with our slightly damp credit card and slip to sign. Strike three.
By a quarter past eight o’clock, we were headed home. No more people were waiting to be seated, so hopefully the poor overworked servers would get a break soon. They’d been busy non-stop all day since they opened at ten o’clock.
I did not take any photos of our seating area or our dinners as I didn’t want to embarrass the poor servers who were so busy. As I reported via my Twitter feed last night, though, it’s highly unlikely that we will be returning to El Potro anytime in the near or far future. We are quite happy with our local gem in the heart of Lansing. It was just an ‘okay’ dining out experience, one that we’d probably not care to repeat.