Last year, Carlos Aldaco marked the grand reopening of El Mariachi, the Mexican restaurant in Kittie's Crossing shopping center he refers to as "my baby."
He tripled the existing space, adding a bar and dining room. His regulars, who usually grabbed takeout or a quick lunch, did double takes following the transformation.
Now, that's what drivers are doing when they see the big yellow banner for El Nuevo Vallarta Mexican Bar & Grill outside the former site of Montana's (later Tavern 46), a landmark at 16 Kittie's Landing Rd. at Hwy. 46.
Sitting in the spacious dining room decorated with Mexican pottery, hand-painted murals, stenciled tile and trompe l'oeil arches, Aldaco glanced around and said, "Never in my dreams..."
With his wife, Maria Moreno, working the kitchen and a staff of loyal employees, El Nuevo, which means "new" in Spanish, features an ambitious menu that he said is completely different from his other restaurant.
Maria said she learned to cook from her mother in Oaxaca and from Carlos in the Michoacan style, so there are traditionally authentic dishes such as Pollo en Mole, two generous pieces of tender chicken falling off the bone and smothered in a slightly smoky, subtly spicy, velvety brown mole sauce, served with rice and beans, $12.99.
Mexico's Pacific coast cuisine features lots of mariscos, fresh, local seafood, including ostiones en su concha (oysters on the half shell), camerones (shrimp), mejillones (mussels) and a made-from-scratch Paella, with shrimp, mussels, clams, chicken, fish, rice and green olives, $22.99, that requires about 30 minutes preparation time.
Ceviche cocktails and fish and shrimp tacos are also available, but the show-stopper is Charola El Nuevo Vallarta, a $65 seafood platter with shrimp, crab legs, oysters or whatever's fresh, big enough for four to share.
Certainly there are tacos, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas at El Nuevo, but adventurous diners should consider the "especiales," such as Chiles En Nogada, stuffed pepper with beef or pork, raisins, apple, apricot, pear, almonds, cream, pomegranate and goat cheese in walnut sauce for $8.99; or Codorniz a las Brisas, grilled quail with charro beans served with rice and salad, $16.99.
Hearty Mexican breakfasts are served on weekends. Happy hour, 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, offers sampler plates for about $5, and the restaurant hosts live entertainment on weekends.
Aldaco plans to offer lunch specials for about $10 that will change weekly. "Our menu is still a work in progress as we see what people want," he said.
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 843-706-9338.
Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.