When my wife told me last night that she had to drive to Worcester on business this morning my first thought was that there wouldn't be any delicious pancakes when I got back from the gym. My second thought was that I should go to Monte Alban for breakfast.
Monte Alban is a tiny little restaurant on the south side of Farmington Avenue in the West End of Hartford. It has been around for at least a decade and it serves up delicious Mexican food at a very fair price.
I have eaten there dozens of times and, setting aside the seafood, I have probably had almost everything on the menu at one time or another. I read a review on one of those websites that said the mole sauce wasn't great and I tend to agree, but otherwise I've always eaten very, very well.
I particularly like the enchaladas verdes ($9.75), the flautas ($9.75) and the carne asada ($12.50), which is a grilled sirloin with sauteed onions, garnished with pico de gallo and guacamole. Also delicious are the milkshakes, which come in banana, mango or chocolate ($3.50).
The thing I really like about Monte Alban is that it is authentic. I've never been to Mexico, but I had a friend in school who was half-Mexican. He was a real cowboy (hat, spurs, and all) and like many cowboys, he was a pretty darn good cook. The Mexican food at Monte Alban reminds me very much of his cooking, which is either a remarkable coincidence or good evidence that it is the real deal.
Of course, not only is the food authentic, but the place is as well. As you can sort of see from the picture, Monte Alban is sort of fitted out like a Catina and always playing is what sounds like mariachi music, but I know so little about Mexican popular and folk music that I am probably just revealing myself to be a real gringo, so I will stop.
Monte Alban has a breakfast menu (10AM to Noon) and my favorite is the chilaquiles verdes ($6.95) which are pieces of fresh tortilla dipped in a spicy (and I mean spicy) grean sauce (there is also a version using red sauce - also $6.95 - which is good too). The taste is outstanding and Monte Alban's tortilla is pretty hardy, so even as it soaks up the sauce it still maintains its integrity, leading to a very rich and chewy meal. You also get refried beans with all the entrees and I also had 2 fried eggs ($2.80). The beans and eggs definitely help offset the very spicy green sauce. The meal is filling and delicious, but if you are not used to spicy food, you may have a tough time with this (fortunately, there are other breakfast entrees that aren't as spicy, including the ubiquitous scrambled eggs and ham - $6.75). Because the tortillas are so fresh and tasty I also had chips and salsa ($3.75) - the salsa was great, as you might guess -- and a cup of strong, but not overpowering, coffee ($1.75) to wash it all down.
On the weekends at breakfast you can also get two traditional items - sopes ($2.25) which is dough topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese & pozole ($6.50) which is made of white hominy (corn soaked in lime) and chicken in a red broth. The broth consists of garlic, onions, oregano, diced green chiles, enchilada sauce, cilantro, tortilla pieces, and water.
The biggest problem with Monte Alban is the parking, or actually the lack of parking. There are only a few spots along Farmington Avenue and the immediate side streets (Whitney and Evergreen) are usually crowded. Fortunately, Monte Alban has cut a deal with the owner of the Kinko's plaza immediately across the street and its patrons can park at the far end of the lot in the spaces bounded by yellow lines (don't park anywhere else in the lot or you will be towed).
Monte Alban has a separate lunch menu (until 3 PM) with $7.75 specials. There is a very limited wine list, but thankfully there is a pretty good selection of beers including all the ones you'd expect at a Mexican restaurant (Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, and Bohemia, to name 3). There isn't much in the way of desert, just flan and rice pudding (both $2.50).Monte Alban is a classic ethnic restaurant. It serves good, basic, food with a lot of love at a fair price. One note, the staff is very friendly and most speak English relatively well, though if you go at off hours (like for breakfast, for example) it might help if you know some Spanish.
If you like Mexican food and you haven't been to Monte Alban, you definitely need to check it out. If you are looking to break out of a culinary rut and try something new, you should check out Monte Alban. In either case, you won't be sorry.
Here is a link to Monte Alban's menu, which someone has been kind enough to post:
Here are some links to a map and reviews:http://www.yelp.com/biz/monte-alban-restaurant-hartfordhttp://findlocal.courant.com/west-end/restaurants/mexican/monte-alban-hartford-restaurant