by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Academy Avenue slashes through Sanger and, with the recent divider expansion and road widening, the thoroughfare is getting closer to several businesses, including Velasco’s Mexican Restaurant.
The eatery is housed in a building that has been a place for hungry people to fill their stomachs for many years (formerly Larry’s Coffee Shop and The Rusty Plow). When you enter, the old counter and booths give away its coffee-shop past, but you will usually be seated in the main dining area, a goodly-sized room quirkily decorated with serapes and sombreros, Diego Rivera prints, and garlands of greenery with light-up chili peppers.
The salsa is chunky and mild enough that you can still carry on a conversation while eating it, but the chips inspired a game in our party: Russian Roulette Chips. The tortillas are cut and sprinkled with chili powder before baking, so some sections are plain, but others have heavy doses of tongue-roughening heat. For the game, you close your eyes, grab a chip, and test your luck.
Some entrees come with a Dinner Tostada, with a guacamole-splashed slice of tomato topping not-too-much lettuce, plenty of cheese, and a creamy layer of refried beans on a reasonably-crunchy corn tortilla. The rice and beans that accompany meals have the creamy beans and rice that has good character, instead of the usual bland grains that most restaurants serve.
I’m a fan of chiles rellenos, and the dish at Velasco’s manages to steer a pleasant course between the extremes: not so soft it spreads out like melted Jell-o, and firm, but not hard enough to need a knife. The chile verde features perky pork and a saucy sauce, while the beef in the hearty chile Colorado was a little greasy, but oh-so-yummy.
The tamales are tasty, the enchiladas are saucy, and the taco’s shell doesn’t shatter when you touch it. The Tostada Compuesta is a massive bowl made of a flour tortilla,. a flaky shell brimming with cheese, greens, juicy meat, and those creamy beans. The side tortillas can be fluffy clouds of flour or warm (but not oily) rounds of ground corn that are best enjoyed before they cool.
I have to mention the chimichangas that are fit for a king…and two knights…and a couple of pages. These things are BIG, and are great for sharing with a friend or to provide leftovers for several lunches that will make your co-workers envy you, hate you, or both.
I haven’t tried everything on the menu, but I saw a mammoth bowl that was more than soup but less than stew, with large chunks floating up and diving down like denizens of a colorful tank at Sea World. There are hamburgers and such for children who haven’t discovered the joy of dribbling hot sauce on their good clothes. The breakfast menu is fun to explore, too.
Parking can be a problem because of the Academy construction, but there is a parking area behind the restaurant, shared with a bar and some other businesses.
It’s a friendly place, one of Sanger’s hidden treasures. If you don’t go for the atmosphere, go for the food; there’ll be lots of it on your plate, and it’s goo-ood!
Velasco’s Mexican Restaurant is at 419 Academy Avenue, Sanger. (559) 876-2666. Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Wednesdays. Dinners $7-$15. Beer and wine available. Takeout orders accepted.