The Causeway is almost a license to print money as long as you’re a waterfront seafood restaurant. Start on the Spanish Fort side and work your way to Mobile. There’s Tropic’s, Ed’s Seafood Shed, the Bluegill, Original Oyster House, Ralph and Kacoo’s, R & R Seafood and Felix’s Fish Camp. All of these places are known for what made the Causeway famous in the first place, and that’s Gulf seafood.
But head a little farther west and you’ll find an unlikely tenant in the former Tacky Jack’s building. Of course I am talking about Café Del Rio. I know what you’re thinking. What is a Mexican restaurant doing on the Causeway? Strange, I know, but it really isn’t a bad idea after all.
Part of the Ralph and Kacoo’s family of restaurants, Café Del Rio came to Mobile when Ralph and Kacoo’s decided the larger facility formerly known as Lap’s would suit their restaurant needs better; they relocated and passed on the Tacky Jack’s location to their sister restaurant. Unto us a Mexican eatery was born.
It’s always hectic around Nappie time for the staff at our paper, so when I decided to give these guys a review I thought it best to invite Assistant Managing Editor Gabe Tynes along for the ride. One of my kids is the same age as one of his, and now we don’t see each other that often since soccer season ended. It was good to catch up.
It just so happens Gabe and I are both dieting and new to the running game. If I am going to wreck my caloric intake on some good grub then I at least should drag someone down with me. In a sick sort of way it makes me feel better about myself. Gabe was willing to go toe-to-toe with me at the dinner table so off we went, braving the Bankhead Tunnel during rush hour.
I’m no rookie to Café Del Rio. I’ve been a couple of times since it opened. It was nice to see the parking lot was still packed. Even with all the cars there was no trouble getting a table for two. Gabe started with a Corona Light and I had a margarita, rocks, no salt.
Starting off they usually bring hot tortillas and serve squirt bottles of butter and honey to get you in the mood. Luckily they forgot ours. Gabe asked about them but we never received any. Better that we didn’t. Instead we began with Queso Diablo ($4.59 per cup). This was the only menu item with a cartoon pepper next to it whose hair was on fire. I guess that’s what they mean by “diablo.” Served with excellent chips I found this not spicy at all. It’s a creamy cheese and it’s very good, but our salsa had more of a kick. Maybe someone forgot the diablo part.
Gabe was interested in the Tortilla Soup ($3.99 per cup). There was a lot of flavor in this one. It could be perfect with a salad for lunch. The chicken held up really well as far as the juiciness. Never was any of it dry.
Tamales ($8.99) are a must for me. This was the appetizer version, which is pretty sizable and can come smothered in either homemade Tex-Mex chili or Tijuana cream sauce. We didn’t specify and ended up with the chili. Of course with the chili comes the cheese.
It seemed we were appetizer crazy. I was dying for a Del Rio Shrimp Cocktail ($10.99) and politely asked if they could do it without the mango salsa. I’ve had it before and it was just a bit sweet for my taste. Our waitress left to ask the chef if they could do such a thing, but returned to let us know they had no more shrimp cocktails. Would I like another choice? How about ceviche? That sounded great to me. Again she returned, to say they were also out of ceviche. At this point I decided to skip the appetizer and move on to the main course.
Gabe chose wisely with Brisket Tacos ($9.99). Served with pico de gallo, Panama sauce and a side of refried beans, this dish could be the best value/taste combination on the menu. The two soft tacos came in their own little caddy for easy eating and sharing. I’ll be back for these myself.
Since I missed out on a seafood appetizer I figured I’d try my luck with the Pescado ($14.99). Grilled whitefish fillet was topped with the same sauce they use for their Tijuana shrimp and plated next to four of their popular shrimp brochette, which are nothing less than shrimp stuffed with Monterey jack cheese and a sliver of jalapeño. The whole thing is wrapped in bacon and fried to a crisp. That’s not a bad side, I must say. My dish came with (my choice) charro beans, and despite how much I enjoy refried beans I believe this is the way to go.
Of course dessert was to take home. Sopapilla cheesecake ($3.99) made it home intact but was devoured after an hour in my fridge. I couldn’t resist the strawberry glaze.
I know about now you’re realizing poor Gabe was left out of the dessert experience. Before you feel too sorry for him, know that Café Del Rio has complimentary soft-serve ice cream at the hostess stand. It took Gabe a couple of tries to master the handle, which had a warning sign that read “Pull Slowly,” but after tossing one cone and part of the wait staff’s equipment into the trash, he nailed it with a swirl that would make any DQ employee proud.
So what is a Mexican restaurant doing on the Causeway? Making a lot of people happy, I guess. It kind of has a restaurant chain feel to it, but the food is good if you’re into overindulgent Tex-Mex. I say run with it. They could do much worse.
Café Del Rio
1175 Battleship Parkway
Spanish Fort 36527