Chili, Shmili. How about a tongue taco?

Cincinnati Bites
Bibimbap from The Korea House

Posted Wednesday, May 15, 2013

There are several flavors of self-proclaimed "authentic" Mexican restaurants floating around Cincinnati, and if there existed a Geiger counter measuring the accuracy of such labels, El Trio Mexican Grill would likely fall squarely between fully Americanized and "Mucho Authentico" extremes.

El Trio, located near Mariemont on Wooster Pike, rests in a strip mall that has been for years the site of a number of struggling restaurants. But the little area seems to be making a comeback, now boasting three solid eateries, including Mango Tree Thai and Magic Wok.

Superficially, El Trio seems like any other Tex-Mex restaurant in town. You're greeted at the door with the obligatory "Welcome, Amigos," then escorted down a short flight of stairs to the main, recessed dining area of tables and booths.

El Trio chips, salsa and bean dip

At about the moment the server places the complimentary chips and salsa in front of you is when you'll start to notice some key differences. In addition to the salsa, a complimentary dish of bean dip is provided. You'll then be informed that a self-serve salsa bar is available near the front register, boasting about a dozen homemade salsas, ranging from the familiar verdes, tomatillos and habaneros, to the more exotic peanut, pumpkin and Guajillo chili salsas.

El Trio's menu is a laundry list of mostly familiar Tex-Mex favorites, as well as a couple items that gringos will find adventurous. Familiar fare such as fajitas, chimichangas, enchiladas, tacos and burritos brush up against poblanos, tortas and the shrimpy Sopa de Camaron.

Enchiladas Con Mole
El Trio Enchiladas Banderas

On our last couple of visits, I was impressed with their Enchiladas Con Mole, three corn tortillas packed with shredded chicken and topped with a dark, rich mole sauce. The mole hit all the right notes of complexity, with chocolatey, spicy underpinnings. The accompanying Mexican rice was no surprise, but it was competently prepared and helped to balance the bold mole.

My girlfriend enjoyed the spinachy Enchiladas Suizas, served with both rice and beans, while my sister --an El Trio regular-- is quite fond of the tri-colored Enchiladas Bandera: a chicken, spinach and beef enchilada, topped respectively with verde, cheese and red sauces, served with rice and beans.

El Trio's peanut salsa from the salsa bar is a new favorite of mine: the peanut flavor shines through but is not overwhelming, coupled with a palate-tickling heat that slowly builds, chip after chip. The pumpkin salsa made me realize I have no idea what pumpkin really tastes like; rather, I'm really only familiar with its accompanying spices, such as cinnamon, clove, etc. None of those are evident in this salsa, so expect to be surprised.

El Trio offers solid, reliable Tex-Mex whose salsa bar, timely service and extra attention to detail make it a cut above its cookie-cutter competitors.

El Trio Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon
El Trio Mexican Grill

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Excellent
Rating: 3.0 out of 43.0 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. Dinner Impressions: Envision Cinemas Bar & Grill
    -posted Tuesday, January 16, 2018
  2. A Taste of Hawaii: Poke Hut
    -posted Thursday, January 4, 2018
  3. Pizza in Walnut Hills: Fireside Pizza
    -posted Thursday, December 21, 2017
  4. Breakfast and Brunch Review: Wild Eggs
    -posted Tuesday, December 19, 2017
  5. Barbecue Impressions: Bourbon Smokehouse
    -posted Sunday, December 17, 2017
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Natasia Malaihollo about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thank you for the review and background on the restaurant history! I was a huge fan of huit and super disappointed when they “closed.” Was wondering what’s going on with this musical chairs of a restaurant strategy so thank you for clarifying!
    posted: Fri., Jan 26th, 2018 @ 6:50 PM
  • From Jeff about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for the thorough review! It honestly does seem like a new restaurant is opening every other day..but the thing about the wait staff..they might be getting paid a higher hourly rate because they are only open for lunch. I’ve worked at a restaurant where I was paid $10 an hour but the owner kept the tips, it sucked but sort of made sense for the lunch shift.
    posted: Fri., Dec 22nd, 2017 @ 9:00 PM
  • From heather about Wild Eggs:
    we liked it too - things are fresh and made from scratch and high quality - good experiences all around
    posted: Wed., Dec 20th, 2017 @ 10:55 AM
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for writing, Heather. I definitely like their other restaurants. Lalo's pazole and fish taco are better than Mazunte's, I think. But I agree they are definitely hit-or-miss. I'm still rooting for them, though. There's talent there. :)

    posted: Mon., Nov 20th, 2017 @ 1:30 PM
  • From Heather JOhnson about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    I tried Huit & Lalo and they were both expensive and so mixed - one thing great - another thing barely mediocre. More of the same it sounds like - hits and misses for a really expensive lunch. Nope on Dope.
    posted: Sun., Nov 19th, 2017 @ 12:41 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design