Tequila House Fiesta Ole
At 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday night, Fiesta Ole Tequila House was lively—not noisy. There’s a difference.
I’ve been to a lot of those restaurants, the noisy ones—the ones where you can hear the third-date couple’s cooing banter in the booth to your right and the uncle at the head of the table to your left with a fifth-grader’s interpretation of the cue “use your inside voice” tell a story—and this isn’t one of them.
The point is that the acoustics here were impressive. Despite almost every single table still being occupied as the clock crept towards 9 p.m.—a promising indictation of how good the food is—I wasn’t overwhelmed by the crowd and I couldn’t discern a single conversation taking place. Here’s what I could hear: a charming cover of City and Colour’s “The Girl”—which happens to have been my favorite song of 2009, so I was liking this place more and more already—being sung by a live guitarist in a distant corner. Her voice was what you hope for when live entertainment intersects with your dining: not intrusive, but pleasant enough that you look up and take note.
The restaurant itself is across from the Lehigh Valley Mall, a modest outpost next to a Midas automotive center on one of the busiest divided highways in the Lehigh Valley. It’s likely that you’ve driven by it, perhaps wondering what it was like inside. The interior, while decidedly casual, is charming. The terra cotta colored tiles on the floor, talavera-studded columns, and walls outfitted in Aztec-inspired masks come across as thoughtful, not kitschy, but I don’t go to Mexican restaurants for the decor—I go for the guacamole.
Avocados are ubiquitous today thanks to simple sensations like avocado toast hitting the mainstream with unprecedented gusto, but I have been eating at least a quarter of an avocado a day (and enjoying telling people that it’s for “healthy fat” purposes when, in reality, avocados could be carcinogenic and I’d still throw them back with my current frequency and fervor) since I was about 9 years old.
Here, there are three types of guacamole on the menu—Traditional, Tropical (mango and cucumber), and Red (roasted garlic and chipotle). I fancy myself a purist, so I stuck with the Traditional. A cart crowned with an enormous molcajete—a Mexican mortar and pestle—was wheeled up for the guacamole to be prepared table-side. To my delight, two whole avocados found their way into the recipe, accompanied by onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, and cilantro. I could definitely work with this.
The texture of the guacamole was perfect. It was creamy enough that it could be dipped into, but it was certainly not a dip, which is the downfall of prepackaged guacamoles sitting in the refrigerated and air-tight pouches at the grocery store. There were still plenty of intact and bite-sized chunks of avocado—a necessity—but it wasn’t chunky. A second basket of chips was required to scrape every last green speck from the sides of the molcajete.
The other thing I go to Mexican restaurants for are the margaritas. The margarita menu was brimming with a litany of frozen twists like Mango, Guava, Tamarindo, and Hibiscus, but again, I’m a purist. I decided on the Patrón Margarita, which could potentially be one of the best margaritas I’ve had in my life. It was tart and refreshing and, just between us, I wish that it had been served in a molcajete instead of a lowball glass.
Tortilla Soup, an essential piece of the cuisine’s canon, came in a huge bowl with a skyscraper assemblage of crispy fried tortilla strips. The broth was okay on its own, but it’s meant to be eaten with a helping of the sour cream, avocado, and pico de gallo served on top. When you do that, the flavors bounce off one another, catching you in a sort of savory echo chamber. Short of sitting in the front row at a Fleetwood Mac reunion concert, there aren’t many other ways I’d rather spend a Saturday.
Another essential pit stop on any Mexican restaurant’s menu is, of course, tacos. I’m a corn tortilla person, so the fact that the tacos come in your choice of flour or corn was a plus. The Fish Tacos (grilled tilapia, chipotle mayo, lettuce, and pico de gallo) were light and tasty.
Aside from tacos and guacamole, one last must-try when dining south of the border is mole sauce. Mole poblano is that dark, complex concotion that I’ve considered making at home once or twice in my life on an ambitious Sunday afternoon, but it’s a task better outsourced to restaurants or experienced grandmothers. The sweet and smoky sauce doesn’t come easily—recipes vary, but the majority require upwards of 20 ingredients and patience for toasting, grinding, and simmering. The Enchiladas Poblanas were four chicken enchiladas smothered with the cocoa- and pepper-laden sauce, and they were delicious.
The next time you find yourself leaving the mall, consider stopping at Fiesta Ole for a margarita and some guacamole instead of racing towards the string of brake lights on 22. By the time you’re done, perhaps the traffic will have resolved itself.
Fiesta Ole Tequila House
1808 MacArthur Rd • Whitehall