- 2345 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY, 40206
- (502) 899-9930
- Overall User Rating:
- (5 ratings)
- 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
- Official Web Site:
Bean dip. Can there be a simpler pleasure? No matter the ingredients — chickpeas, tahini and hummus; white beans, rosemary and olive oil; pintos, lard and jalapenos — the bean dip serves as a fine snack or starter. It’s usually a humble concoction, one that quietly satisfies our appetites, without distracting us from more important matters.
On the other hand, there’s the black bean chipotle dip at El Mundo. Attention must be paid to such a dip: black beans serve as an earthy container for the smells of beer, onions, garlic and a big blast of smoky chipotle heat that won’t take your breath away but will give your meal a sense of delightful urgency.
That bean dip shows up as an appetizer ($5.95), as part of the Dippity Do appetizer platter (along with red salsa, a tart tomatillo salsa and a creamy, spicy guacamole, $8.25), and as the featured ingredient in one of the city’s best vegetarian entrees (spicy bean crispy tacos, $11.25), a dish that, like everything else on the El Mundo menu shows off chef Michael Boyle’s confident sense of style, color and balance (incidentally, El Mundo’s beans and rice are vegan, and many dishes can be adapted for vegetarians upon request).
El Mundo has been one of the anchors of Frankfort Avenue’s dining scene since 1995, and in some ways it encapsulates the essence of the Clifton/Crescent Hill scene. It’s a restaurant with a rustic, casual feel — worn tile floors, bright colors, functional furnishings, a decorating scheme that favors bright Mexican-themed kitsch (including vivid images of Frida Kahlo).
The dining area is divided into three parts. Downstairs there’s a friendly but shabby seating area where customers order at the counter and grab their own silverware and water glasses. Just around the corner, there’s pleasant patio dining. And up a flight of stairs there’s a tight warren of tables that features full (and expert) service from a very enthusiastic staff.
No matter where you sit, the food comes from what looks to be a tiny downstairs kitchen (watch closely when you’re upstairs and you’ll see sizzling platters of food ascending via an old-fashioned dumbwaiter). And no matter where you sit you can count on superb cuisine from Boyle and his colleagues.
On a given day you might feast on grilled swordfish fajitas dressed with an olive salsa ($16.95) — or whatever seafood has captured the chef’s whim that week. You might wash that down with a glass of lemon basil white sangria (or a prickly pear margarita, if you’re so inclined).
Mussels are always on the menu — plump, shiny and steeped in a brew of chipotle, lime, garlic and cream ($9.95). And on recent visits a rotating assortment of hot and cold soups has offered rich, spicy comforts — especially a chunky Sopa Azteca filled with yellow-green slabs of avocado, pulled chicken, cilantro and a dash of sour cream ($3.25/$5).
Let’s face it: Eating should be fun. And if your idea of fun is bright colors and vivid flavors, Boyle’s menu is a regular theme park. His veggie tamales — filled with cheese and the dense, lush corn dough known as masa and jack cheese — are steamed inside artfully wrapped corn husks that peek open to reveal bright kernels of corn, straight from the cob ($9.50).
Those yellow kernels show up again in magnificent green chile enchiladas stuffed with a rotating selection that might include pulled pork, ground bison or shredded chicken ($12.95). And if you’re looking for a quick way to survey the menu, try the combo plate ($13.95) — a meal quite adequate for two diners.
And whatever you do, don’t neglect the chile relleno ($9.25), a handsome fire-roasted poblano pepper that can be filled with anything you like (though it’s worth noting that pulled pork makes a brilliant stuffing).
And finally, having started your meal with the black bean chipotle dip, you need to close it with something equally fine: a tricky chocolate pot de crème that — for just a moment — will seem innocent enough, but then will deliver a needle-like dash of ancho chile heat.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.