Three years ago, Carlos Aldaco and his step-daughter Karen Otero realized a longtime dream when they opened a small Mexican restaurant wedged between storefronts at Kittie's Crossing shopping center off Bluffton Road and Hwy. 278.
Featuring recipes passed down by grandmothers in their home regions of Michoacan and Guerrero on Mexico's Pacific coast, the menu offered authentic dishes such as Pozole, Barbacoa and Mole, and fresh local seafood, such as oysters, that one doesn't generally find at Mexican restaurants.
They attracted a following, mostly for lunch and takeout, and last month celebrated their grand re-opening in a remodeled space that tripled in size, with a full bar and spacious main dining room.
Step inside and you'll feel like you're in a cantina like those found in Mexican resort cities, with lively mariachi music, sparkly sombreros on the walls, and a hand-painted mural spanning the length of the dining room.
Of course you will find tacos, burritos, enchiladas and fajitas - the standard Mexican fare - at El Mariachi, but you will also find more than a dozen authentic selections prepared with homemade sauces, a variety of marinated meats, and garnished with generous portions of vegetables, rice and beans.
For example, the El Mariachi special, $14.99, has grilled steak, marinated chicken breast and carnitas (fried pork) topped with choriqueso and served with nopales (tender cactus), grilled onion, fried jalapeno, salad, beans, rice and soft tortillas. Chilaquiles, a popular Sunday brunch dish in Mexico, is made from corn tortilla chips smothered with a red or green sauce, topped with cheese and sour cream, and served with steak and two fried eggs, $10.99.
Seafood dishes are the most popular and, fortunately, the menu is generously illustrated with photos of specials featuring ostiones en su concha (oysters on the half shell), camerones (shrimp), crab, and ceviche, a fish cocktail appetizer.
Seafood entrees (about $15) can be grilled, fried, cooked in a spicy red sauce, sautéed with tomato, onion and jalapeno, or in garlic butter. "You can't find the way we prepare seafood, like it's made on the Pacific coast, anywhere else," said Otero.
Lunch specials served Monday through Friday are $9.99. Happy Hour, with $3 margaritas, is from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. El Mariachi is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 843-705-4117 for more information.
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.