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Hecho en Mexico
While it is true that excellent hard-to-find Mexican restaurants are out there, these Shangri-Las are few and far between, and for every "good" one there are often several dozen imitators that are lamentably pathetic.
And to be fair, just about every Mexican restaurant in Fresno has something going for it, whether it is the food, the location, or the quality of service. And each has their own style of assembling a meal, whether their angle is to provide the most "authentic" variation or the most filling or spiciest version of a dish.
Fresno's El Palmar Alegres (504 E Belmont Ave, 233-9857) may not be right for everybody, but Palmar has proven itself one of Fresno's top Mexican Restaurants in terms of ambience. It is a great place to hang out. The bright yellow and wood paneled interior is skirted by an awesome patio full of foliage and fountains; imagine the Chaffee Zoo's rain forest exhibit dotted with tables and umbrellas. During certain hours you'll find a Tejano Group assembled below a palm tree, and when they are absent there is always a jukebox stocked with several fine Los Tigres Del Norte selections.
El Palmar Alegre provides a dining backdrop that is absolutely Mexico but not in a sleazy Tijuana sort of way. The staff, while almost exclusively Spanish-speaking, are helpful and polite and the menu is well chosen and authentic. A constant rotation of novelas and soccer games on the television mounted over the bar adds to the restaurant's low-key charm. The coolers are lined with imported glass bottles of Pepsi-Cola that are clearly labeled with "Hecho en Mexico" stickers. It's authentic in the sense that everything is truly Mexican without falling into a Taco Bell stereotype.
The Bistec Ranchero, at 8.95, is a delicious dinner entree featuring skirt steak smothered in tomato sauce and jalapenos. Accompanying the dish is a small side of guacamole, handmade tortillas, rice and beans. Hearty and spicy, it is perfect for those who insist on dynamic flavors in their food.
Palmar also does an excellent job of serving up meals that represent the subtler aspects of Mexican cuisine. The Camarones de Ajillo is a pile of tender shrimp served in a light garlic sauce and comes with sides of beans and rice and tortillas. While ordering seafood at an unknown Mexican restaurant is usually a recipe for disappointment (or worse) we were pleasantly surprised with this dish. Aromatic and colorful, it is the sort of plate that encourages hungry onlookers to jealously stare, sniff, and salivate. Clocking in at 10.95, the camarones lie on the more expensive side of the menu, but they are well worth the few extra bucks.
Lunch selections at Palmar, most of which feature interchangeable combinations of enchiladas or tacos, is served with the omnipresent helpings of beans and rice and is affordable (6.95) though not necessarily distinguishable from the fare you'd find at one of Fresno's better chain restaurants. While the lunch deals are acceptable, the dinner entrees are the true highlight of Palmar's menu.
The restaurant's location on Belmont, deep in the heart of one of Fresno's shadiest strips, may deter some, but isn't the adventure an essential part of the Fresno dining experience?