CHARLESTON, WV -- Just in time for Valentine's Day, I've reconnected with a lost love. "My Kitchen of Love," to be exact.
As soon as Mi Cocina de Amor opened on Charleston's West Side a little over a year ago, it quickly started generating pretty good buzz for its tasty Mexican fare.
After it had been open a few months, I stopped by for a quick lunch one day last spring and was impressed as well. I made a promise to go back for dinner before giving it an official review, but weeks turned into months and it just slipped my mind.
So when I drove by the place once again last month, I had one of those "OMG!" moments and turned the car around immediately. An incredible meal that day led to several more fantastic visits over the weeks that followed, leading to today's long-overdue Food Guy stamp of approval.
Located in the storefront on Bigley Ave. that used to house Hog & Dog (and a Tudor's before that), Mi Cocina de Amor specializes in regional cuisine from the state of Sonora in Northern Mexico near Arizona, using family recipes handed down through generations and new creations of chef-owner Frank Gonzales III.
Strings of lights, native art and family photos fill a colorful dining area that seats a lot more people than you might think at first glance. It's a good thing, too, because this place just keeps converting fans with great food and super friendly, efficient service.
First, the basics. Yes, you're greeted with complimentary chips and seriously good salsa. And yes, you can order traditional items like tacos, enchiladas and such. But they're a notch above those other guys and are served alongside some pretty creative dishes, too.
The fresh guacamole is delicious and the tacos suave (plain ground beef soft tacos) have so much more flavor than most.
The queso fundido is a cast iron skillet of queso menonita (a Mexican white cheese) baked with fresh house-made chorizo (spicy sausage). Ignore the oil slick on top and dig in. It's a small indulgence worth a few extra minutes on the treadmill.
The enchiladas blanco (white chicken, green chile, sour cream and Monterrey Jack) are decadent, a word you also might use to describe Enchiladas La Julia, which come with a sunny side egg on top.
The shrimp sauted in butter, garlic, lime and green chiles is nice, as is the similarly flavored grilled mahi-mahi.
But the best dish on the menu, bar none, is the restaurant's signature carne seca plate, a mound of "died and gone to heaven" (my words) slow-simmered roast beef with onions, tomatoes, garlic and chile verde. It comes with rice, beans and warm flour tortillas, but you may never get to those distractions. The beef itself is phenomenal!