I take it as a good sign when a restaurant is crowded. It usually means obviously people think the food is good.
That must be the case with Salsa Grille, the newly opened restaurant on Coldwater Road, which is run by the Rongos family, the same people who own George's International Market at Broadway and Taylor Street.
On two lunchtime visits, the place was packed but the second visit almost turned into an epic fail, as the kids would say. You see, after my lunch guests and I got through the line and paid, we were left holding our trays with no place to sit.
There was one empty table, but much to my chagrin, as I approached I discovered two people in line had thrown their coats on the seats to save the booth.
Tempted as I was to cast their coats aside and take their table, instead I stood in the middle of the restaurant and wailed rather loudly, “there's no place to sit!”
And then two very kind women who were done eating hopped up and let us take their booth. Problem solved.
Salsa Grille is set up much like a Moe's Southwest Grill or Chipotle or Qdoba. You go down a line and order your food, customizing what you want on your tacos or in your burrito or bowl. Pay at the end, serve yourself a drink from the soda fountain and then find one of those elusive tables.
The restaurant is bright and sunny, clean and new with a modern, attractive look. It even has some shelves with cans and staples from George's for sale, and a refrigerator case with cheese, sour cream, wraps and more.
It's not a place to go if you're not quick to make decisions. You have to decide what type of entree you want and then what you want in it. You don't feel as if you can dally, especially when a line stretched behind you.
The first choice you have to make is if you want three tacos, a burrito, quesadilla, nachos, taco salad or a bowl. Then you decide your meat, rice, beans and toppings.
I chose the three toppings, and the servers were generous with the fillings. I had Spanish rice and black beans, chicken on two and ground beef on one, and assorted toppings.
My lunch guests both chose the low-carb option: bowls, which were filled with rice, beans, chili and toppings.
When you pay, you're handed a basket of tortilla chips. After you pay, you proceed to the salsa bar, where you can choose from about eight different types of salsa. Then you get your drinks, and then find a seat.
We all were impressed with the food at Salsa Grille. The ingredients seemed fresh, the meat was tender and nicely seasoned, and the assortment of salsas gives your dish as much or as little heat as you like. My favorite topping was the fresh cilantro on my tacos. Speaking of cilantro, it also was used generously in the mild salsa.
I tried a couple other salsas. I very much liked the mild fresh tomatilla salsa. However, I didn't care for the avocado salsa, which looked and tasted like pureed avocado.
Salsa Grille's queso dip also was a hit on my first visit. It was made with white cheese and mild spices. My only complaint is that it had started to congeal on top, and some of that sticky stuff was poured into our container.
Both experiences were good at Salsa Grille. It's nice to be able to customize your food. As for the shortage of tables, I did talk to Chris Rongos about that. He said they wish they had more space for tables.
If you want a leisurely sit-down meal, Salsa Grille probably isn't the place to go. But if you want good Mexican food, reasonably priced, give it a try.
But please, if the place is full, don't claim the last table available when you're still in line. It's not fair to the others who are wandering around with full trays, looking for a place to eat.
Instead, just stand in the middle of the room with your tray, looking pathetic. I guarantee you somebody who has finished their meal will take pity on you, get up and give you their seat.
Every other Tuesday, Cindy Larson describes a one-time dining experience at an area restaurant. The News-Sentinel pays for meals. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel. You can reach her at 461-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read other columns, go to www.news-sentinel.com/section/LARSON.