- 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:
Ice and salt. At this time of year, those are the toxic toppings for sloppy city streets. And at a time when the city looks rather like a frosted mug, it might seem like bad timing to tout a drink founded on those ingredients.
And yet, at El Mundo, the bartenders look winter square in the face, shake their heads, and use ice and salt to conjure the steamy feel of a sunny summer day.
With 30 quality tequilas available by the shot, a dozen or so tasting flights and an imaginative list of margaritas (including the Obamarita, a concoction that uses grapefruit Jarrito soda), El Mundo is a fine place to raise a glass in defiance against the season.
It’s a casual place. The tables are covered in bright, slightly cockeyed mosaics. Here and there, skulls and skeletons — symbols of Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos — wink impudently at death. And the unwinking eyes of Frida Kahlo gaze down from many of the walls, taking in everything that happens, whether you sit upstairs (usually after a long, long wait for table service) or downstairs (where you order at the counter, retrieve your own silverware and generally tend to yourself but can see, smell and hear your food being prepared in the frenzied open kitchen and can usually get a table pretty quickly).
The menu sounds like many a Mexican restaurant — tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chiles rellenos — generally served with beans and rice. But El Mundo, a fixture on Frankfort Avenue since 1995, has long been distinguished by its focus on ultra-fresh ingredients, vivid flavors and artful presentations; it’s a restaurant that delights in infusing conventional-sounding dishes with inventive twists.
Not long ago, a dinner special — a grilled ruby trout tostada — was an open-faced treasure. A gleaming, pink, grill-marked filet of trout was bedded down in a bright layer of greens — and dressed up with a chunky salsa made with honeydew and cantaloupe ($13.95). Moist, satisfying and gently spiced, it was a deft work of seafood cookery.
So was an order of pan-seared fish tacos — gently cooked cod, double-wrapped in warm flour tortillas, garnished with bright sprays of curly endive and served with a little plastic tub of pink chipotle aioli ($8.50, lunch; $11.25, dinner).
As with nearly all the entrees, those dishes were plated with boldly seasoned red rice, each individual grain carrying a generous measure of chile-heat, and richly flavored black beans.
Less satisfying was a lukewarm cup of potato-leek soup spiced up with roasted peppers ($2.95/$3.95). It had a velvety texture and plenty of heat, but suffered from the slightly raw taste of undercooked potatoes.
And it was hard to muster any enthusiasm for cups of flan ($4) or Oaxacan-style pot de crème made from chiles and chocolate ($6.25), both of which were served, apparently, straight from the icebox — which robbed them of their luster.
On the other hand, such failings fade quickly in the memory when compared with a splendid bowl of steamed mussels in a smoky, citrusy sauce of chipotles, lime, garlic and cream ($8.95), a platter of spicy bean tacos smothered in zesty tomatillo salsa ($9.95), or, best of all, a rustic order of corn and cheese tamales that perfectly captures the traditional look and taste of this classic dish.
On the plate, you see carefully tied corn husks; open those up, and you discover a cylinder of steamed masa concealing a molten core of juicy yellow kernels. It’s a splendid traditional dish that needs no enhancements whatsoever — but takes on a triumphant edge when drizzled with a bit of brick-red chile sauce ($8.75). It’s the sort of dish that might leave Frida’s self-portrait licking its lips.