A few months ago, Julie and I were walking through West Reading during the annual Fall Fest on the Avenue. As we made our way down Penn Avenue, we paused outside La Abuela Mexican Restaurant, the newest restaurant in town at the time.
The owners were standing outside, handing out photocopied versions of the menu to everyone walking past. I was intrigued, but I always like to give a restaurant some time before making a visit.
Fast-forward to a Friday night in November, in need of a place for dinner that was close to home. I dug through our pile of menus and came across the La Abuela menu I picked up two months ago. My decision was made.
La Abuela is located in the old Van’s Cafe, next to Subway on the 400 block of Penn Avenue. It has a major advantage over many of the other restaurant’s along West Reading’s main thoroughfare: a row of customer parking spaces on a private lot behind the building.
The most notable change in the building since the new restaurant took over the space is the floor-to-ceiling map of Mexico. Bright shades of orange, yellow, purple and green highlight the country and neighboring Guatemala, home to one of the restaurant’s co-owners.
In English, La Abuela translates to “Grandmother.” A picture of an elderly grandmother adorns the menu, which is filled with traditional Mexican dishes.
It also includes 10 flavors of Jarritos, a brand of Mexican soda. I enjoy these sodas so much more than American soda because they are made with real cane sugar (and a lot of it. A two-serving bottle contains more than 50 grams).
But what I love more than the soda is the food. I couldn’t wait for our meal so I ordered an appetizer of flautas, fried tacos filled with chicken and topped with homemade salsa, queso fresco, Pico de Gallo and sour cream.
The crispy tortillas ate like an egg roll with more flavor coming out of every crunchy bite. The sour cream and queso fresco helped temper the spices in the salsa. I probably could have gone through a couple plates of flautas and left very happy.
Instead I finished off my share and waited for my tacos al pastor to arrive. Normally, I go for something heavier like enchiladas or fajitas, but marinated pork with pineapple, sautéed onions and cilantro sounded too good to miss.
I was not disappointed. The meat was so tender and flavorful. With the sautéed onions, it ate more like fajitas than tacos.
Three different salsas accompanied the dish, including a cup of fresh-made guacamole. It was so smooth with the right mix of cilantro and mild heat. The other two salsas — one a Pico de Gallo, the other a tomatillo sauce — were good in their own right (the Pico was probably my favorite of the two), but the guacamole was perfect.
While I was enjoying my tacos, Julie was digging into her enchiladas verdes. Like me, she opted for something a little out of her comfort zone as she normally enjoys her enchiladas with a red sauce, but she greatly enjoyed this change of pace.
The chicken was juicy and spicy, but not hot. The cheese was melted inside the tortillas as well as sprinkled on top.
Her favorite part of the meal might have been the refried beans, which she called the best she has ever eaten. I would tend to agree.
The beans were made using black beans so they looked more appealing than the brown beans we get at most restaurants. The black beans also gave it a richer flavor.
After we had our fill, Julie asked our waiter for a box for her last enchilada. Our waiter, one of the co-owners, tried to talk us into dessert, saying it was better than dinner. Unfortunately we had no room left in our stomachs to confirm his claims.
We had arrived early for dinner, about 5 p.m., and there were not many others in the restaurant with us. By the time we were finished an hour later, it had begun filling up for dinner so it took our waiter a little longer to take our check (about $35) and see us on our way.
After a delicious, and quite filling meal, I was glad that I found the menu earlier that day. La Abuela was definitely the right choice.
Food: Very Good
448 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611
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