The taco salad at El Matador on LaFayette Road in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., was prepared with steak instead of the usual ground beef. Photo by Clint Cooper
When I saw a couple of policemen eating at the El Matador Mexican Restaurant, I knew I had come to the right place. I figure police generally seek out a restaurant with a reputation for good food served fast at a relatively low cost.
That description fit this Fort Oglethorpe restaurant to a tee. On a gray day on a gray stretch of the road, this place stood out with a green roof, peach and copper paint, and a facade that was partially made of stacked stone.
However you like to order your Mexican food, this menu has a way for you. You can choose from among dishes with chicken, steak, pork or seafood, or vegetarian. Or you can choose from categories such as fajitas, burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, quesadillas and nachos.
There are also specialties of the house and salads. In addition, there are several things not usually found on a Mexican restaurant menu: sandwiches and grilled kebabs with steak, chicken, shrimp or pork alternated with vegetables.
The sandwiches include Mexican Cheese, two types of steak, and steak or chicken fajitas. The thought of a fajita sandwich, with the sizzling meat combined with grilled onions and peppers, was certainly tempting.
If you want a little less, you can select from an array of appetizers, order tacos or quesadillas a la carte, or pick from a number of side orders. A kids menu offers six items.
A list of lunch specials, available 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, included many of the aforementioned selections in slightly smaller portions. Almost all of the lunch specials were under $5.
The restaurant also featured a full-service bar from which beer, mixed drinks and wine could be ordered.
The order (for two): Enchiladas Supremas (mine); taco salad, with steak instead of the standard ground beef (my lunch companion's).
My dish came with four enchiladas, one each stuffed with cheese, chicken, ground beef and beans. It was topped with lettuce, tomato and sour cream and was accompanied by Mexican rice and refried beans.
It was good but not different from the same dish I have eaten at Mexican restaurants elsewhere. It also was just warm when I would have preferred it to be hot.
My companion's taco salad came in a taco shell, and was more of a fajita salad than a taco salad. It had plenty of steak pieces, diced tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, lettuce and the grilled onions and peppers. He liked it, and the bite I had was tasty, too.
We passed on dessert, but fried ice cream, sopapillas and a deep-fried apple burrito were available.
We arrived at lunchtime and were seated quickly. Our server brought additional salsa when we requested it, but our orders arrived so fast we didn't have time to get into the extra salsa. When my companion needed more water, our server was more attentive to the soccer game on the television than he was to our table. The server also said they didn't have a takeout menu available, but all the food is available for takeout.
The restaurant has plenty of booths, upholstered in red (mine was split open), and tables. Its brick side walls, arched doorway, windows and murals gave it a Spanish ambiance. I wasn't quite sure where the deer head mounted on the wall above our booth fit in, but every restaurant needs a good story. A makeshift outdoor patio held a couple of tables for dining or drinking when the weather is good.
Although my meal had little to distinguish it from other Mexican restaurants I have visited, El Matador has a menu with so many items that I could try something new every week for a year and not get the same thing. It's certainly a place where I would gladly return.
Contact Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 757-6497.
If you go
* Where: El Matador Mexican Restaurant, 2233 LaFayette Road, Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.
* Phone: 706-861-4898.
* Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
* Price range: 35 cents (tortilla)-$18.95 (Fajitas Grande for two with chicken and steak).
* Directions: From Chattanooga, take Rossville Boulevard to LaFayette Road, then LaFayette Road into Fort Oglethorpe. The restaurant is on the left about a block shy of Highway 2A.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...