Tortilla Flats, as this Projo article covers, is under new management. A Providence standby for over three decades, the place had apparently been slowly but surely falling into unimportance. A haunt for locals and Chinese Brown students who have never seen a taco in their lives. It's nice to see a storied restaurant rise again instead of fading away (a la The Red Rooster), and while I commend the effort to return T-Flats to some level of local significance, they're not quite there, yet. That's not to say there isn't something of value there, but maybe not as much as the owners hope.
The exterior of the restaurant is marked by a large, instantly-identifiable sign of a rather-depressed looking man (Apparently a drawing of John Steinbeck), smoking a cigarette. It's unique, and certainly achieved its goal of making me curious about the business. Other than that, it's pretty nondescript. The inside is quaint and has acceptable amounts of charm. Old wood, and a generally aged appearance inside are all pleasant. Three large windows, one on Hope Street and two on Olney, provide some much-needed light into an otherwise dark interior.
The booths in which we were seated were an orthopedic nightmare. We had to sit bolt upright, and the hard wood, lacking any contours, put our butts to sleep. I liked the aged feeling of the booth and table, and the small seats gave it a cozy feeling, but it didn't overcome how uncomfortable it all was. There are other seats available, with chairs and other such elite constructions, and I recommend asking for those unless the size of your party prevents it.
Out first were a duo of appetizers. The coconut shrimp ($9.95) were well-made. The shrimp were very large, tender, flavorful, and the coconut crust was crispy, sweet, and well-done. A pretty good price for seven, large shrimp, as well. The amaretto dipping sauce was very sweet and a good compliment. The chili con queso ($6.95) was also a pleasant surprise. It had a lot of kick to it, and a fiery, oily consistency to it, had a pile of chopped jalapenos on top, and was served in a giant, friend tortilla bowl. It was an inventive take; spicy, cheesy, and paired well with some decently thick tortilla chips. It was the highlight of the night.
The entrees were disappointing. A traditional combo with a taco and burrito ($7.99) tasted like it was made from a kit. The corn tortilla was alright, but the filling was only a couple notches above Taco Bell. It was bland, the ground beef had no weight to it and very few spices. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, but couldn't counter the underwhelming blandness of the ground beef. Similar story with the burrito. The rice was ever worse. It tasted like it was made from a microwave-and-eat readymade packet from Stop & Shop. The rice was heavy and starchy, and bland, bland, bland. The refried beans were beans, but they were a bit watery.
The El Dorado chicken ($12.99) was better. The chicken was tender and well-cooked. A good piece with little fat. The lime flavor was pretty subdued when I would have liked it dancing all over. The pile of cheddar-jack cheese on top was good, but I would have liked a little kick, or maybe some queso blanco sprinkled on top. Something to mix it up a bit. The again sub-standard rice didn't help. Something to add some textural contrast would have been much appreciated. As it stands, it was good but totally standard fare. Good, but I could get this stuff anywhere, including the tex-mex menu down at TGI Fridays.
We didn't opt for dessert, although I must admit a couple of them looked good. I had just lost my desire to really try much else after the entrees were so underwhelming. The appetizers were well-priced and executed as well as I think one could expect. I especially liked the chili con kweh-so. But after that, everything just took the wind out of the sails. I feel pretty confident that, if I was driving by, I'd stop in for that chili again, but everything else was just so bland, I have no desire to go back. Especially when places like El Tapatio are no more than fifteen minutes away.
Tortilla Flats: ++
Price Range For Two: $20-$50
Noise Level: Moderate
Child Friendly: Yes (Until the kitchen closes)
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355 Hope St
Providence, RI 02906
Monday through Thursday 11:30am to 1:00am
Friday & Saturday 11:30am to 2:00am
Sunday 1:00pm to 1:00am
Kitchen open until 10:00pm weekdays, 11:00pm weekends