The character Red Green, Canada’s common man, often reminds us “I’m pulling for you” meaning he wants to help. Coming from a small business family background, I like to see small restaurants succeed. Often, however the restaurants themselves don’t do much of their own pulling. Slow service, bad food, and locations that continually have unsuccessful restaurants are prime examples of restaurants that set themselves up for failure.
I remember the first time I ate at a restaurant in the same building as El Malecon de Tacoma on Sixth Avenue. I loved Flakey Jakes, even though their burgers were over priced. What I really liked . . . and what kept pulling me back was their baked potato bar, where you could lather all the sour cream, butter, cheese and bacon you wanted onto your baked potato. Even with that enticement they closed. In the thirty some years since, there have been other restaurants in the same location that have failed.
The little Sixth Avenue strip mall looks like a restaurant was designed to be the anchor franchise. I don’t know that this has ever worked there. The competition is steep. Popeye Chicken is directly across the street. Down the block a hundred yards are so is the Clover Leaf Tavern, which to my taste has the best pizza in town. Across the empty parking lot is Ben Dews Clubhouse Grill, which has weathered many economic downturns and returned popular, but not always with the same owner.
The website for El Malecon de Tacoma makes a big boast: “El Malecon de Tacoma is the finest Mexican restaurant in Tacoma, WA and the surrounding areas. We offer a unique taste for a variety of authentic Mexican dishes made with only the freshest ingredients. Customer service is our top priority and we will do everything we can to ensure your complete satisfaction. If you are interested in trying our delicious Mexican cuisine, visit El Malecon de Tacoma today.” I can think of five Mexican restaurants (from Ponders Corner to Puyallup) that are better and they all contain the words “El Toro,” and that’s no bull. Actually, the Three Brothers taco truck down the street is better (thesubtimes.com/2017/08/17/tres-hermanos-taco-truck-3-brothers/), El Sabor across from nearby Tacoma Community College is better, and even Tacoma Time on South 19th is better. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that every Mexican restaurant in Tacoma and the surrounding areas are better.
My buddy Jim and I went out for our monthly lunch and chat. I chose El Malecon because it was fairly new and I had never eaten there. We walked into the cavernous restaurant, looked around waiting for someone to greet us and then decided to seat ourselves by the window. The restaurant retained much of the bad planning from Flakey Jakes, with steps up to the bar and steps down to different levels, which is a danger for many seniors walking with canes. The lighting fails to show the steps as well. Interesting to note was a large plywood stage all painted red. I saw no reason for the stage, nor spied any signage that would explain it. Except for the steps the facility might make a good place to hold an event, but with someone else providing food and service.
There was only one waitress, who did her best taking orders, delivering food and drinks, and accepting payment way back in a far corner. Diners have to sign a small tablet to pay with credit card. I’ve only seen this done in tiny restaurants and I hated it there as well. Even if you are paying with cash you must make the trek to the far corner. It should be located near the front door, so people can be greeted and thanked in a convenient spot as they enter or leave.
The food was pretty basic, but Jim and I both ordered a taco plate. Jim just ordered beef for his tacos, while I didn’t care, but wanted each taco different. I requested no beans, just rice. I asked for a diet coke and Jim ordered coffee. I was delivered a plate of beans and rice instead of just rice and two of the tacos were okay, buy the third was just over cooked tiny cubes of some kind of meat. Jim had the same little cubes delivered on all three of his tacos. Jim ordered coffee three times. When it was finally delivered the waitress said, “No charge.” The tiny ramekin of salsa for our chips forced us to break most chips into smaller bites to scoop up any salsa. Later I had to flag down the waitress to ask for salsa (red and green) for my tacos. I was brought a tiny ramekin of each. My refilled diet coke came with a hair attached to the glass . . . no charge. My favorite food item was the pickled carrots gracing the middle of the platter.
I gave the waitress a fifteen percent tip, not for good service, but because she had so much territory to cover. She certainly wasn’t over worked with the five or six total tables in use during our hour and a half stay. If El Malecon de Tacoma exists six months from now I will try it again, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.