When a new restaurant opens, it is my preference to give the staff some time to find their sea legs before dining there for the purpose of a restaurant review. Few of us want a performance review during the first month on a new job.
But in the case of El Rey, there was so much buzz about this Mexican restaurant that I broke my own rule and hit them up for dinner with friends a week after opening.
Inside and out, the former Savor and Vero Prime building on 21st Street provides the perfect palette for a Spanish-style restaurant. Tan, burnt red and clay earth-tone walls are the perfect backdrop for the bright opposing colors of the Mexican-themed paintings and the dynamic star-shaped light fixtures.
There were five of us around a large booth in the far back of the restaurant with a chair pulled up to the end of the table to make plenty of room. There are also tables that can be joined together for larger parties. The bar is conducive to dining for smaller groups and singles.
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We enjoyed margaritas to start with the addictive Chori-Queso dip ($9) consisting of Mexican chorizo, mushrooms and jalapeno peppers in a cheesy queso, a basket of chips and fresh, flavorful salsa. With sparkling flavors of cilantro, the salsa was so good we could have eaten it with merely a spoon.
Entrees are served on large white rectangular platters, showcasing the chef’s work. And the chef’s work is accomplished, indeed.
The first platter, Chiles Rellenos ($16) held two cheese-stuffed, egg-battered Poblano peppers, nestled beside rice and beans and a basic La Bandera salad, to form “The Flag,” as described in the Dominican Republic.
At first bite of the El Rancho Burrito ($16), we heard exclamations of pleasure, followed by the words, carnitas (pulled pork) is so good and the green sauce is so flavorful!
There is always a picky eater in the crowd. Ours announced prior to being served that he predicted four of us would like our food and one of us wouldn’t. Even this self-fulfilling prophecy was not met. His Steak Del Mar ($24), thin cut ribeye steak topped with shrimp and cheese dip on a bed of rice and Pico de Gallo, was a big hit.
Can’t decide on your protein? The Mexican salad bowl ($19) delivers all three – steak, chicken and shrimp – with Mexican rice, black beans, lettuce, Pico de Gallo and corn, topped with chipotle salsa.
Salmon Tropical ($20) was a lovely piece of salmon with a nice drizzling of a fruity-sweet sauce and served with deliciously seasoned mixed veggies and the rest of “The Flag.”
We all agreed that every bite was enjoyable at El Rey.
Remember my personal rule of waiting for a restaurant to get its sea legs before I review? I stand by it. A busy Saturday night put a spotlight on all the kinks that needed to be addressed at El Rey.
While the restaurant has the food all figured out, the front of the house needs work. We waited quite a long time for our food at El Rey. And the music and crowd din was so loud it was frustrating for us to attempt communication, not just with each other but with our young waitress as well. I think we asked for additional napkins three times before the message was received.
Having said that, I have great hopes for El Rey and look forward to eating there again. After all, its name means king!
Address: 901 21st Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960
Hours: Sunday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Alcohol: Full bar
Online: El Rey Mexicspann Restspanurspannt | Fspancebook