Right now I'm disturbed by definitions. The language seems to be getting less and less precise. "Family-style," for instance. And "home cooking." What could these terms mean in 1995?
Not what they seem, that's for sure.
Avila's is a real "family-style," "home-cooking" restaurant. But it doesn't serve food in communal bowls. There's no chicken-fried steak on the menu, and not a biscuit in sight. It is, however, food cooked by a real family, a family's presentation of its own favorite foods. The restaurant is the Avila family's home away from home.
Eating at Avila's isn't like having dinner with the family. It is having dinner with the family. The small unassuming house still feels more like a home than a restaurant. Richard is usually there, running things; one of his parents, and an aunt or a sibling, is in the kitchen where the TV is often on--just like home. A young nephew has "worked" at Avila's since he was a toddler, bussing tables till he figured he'd get more money as a waiter.
You might call the service at Avila's "family-style"--it involves more of a relationship than you might normally have with your server. You usually don't want to be that chummy with a waiter, even when you (not through any fault of your own) know his name. ("Good evening. I'm Chris, and I'll be your waiter tonight.") But at Avila's it's just natural to chat--Richard told us all about the El Vez show he'd been to, and when we asked, played the CD so we could hear the reincarnation of Elvis for ourselves.
There are always specials on the blackboard, and we look there before opening the menus. The selection varies--it might be exotica like goat cheese quesadillas or it might be, as it was this time, a vegetarian special, enchiladas frijoles negros, the black beans spilling out of the tortilla like big caviar.
From the menu, enchiladas Mexicanas-- the hot tortillas slipped into a brick-colored ancho chile wash--were filled with cheese and served with a medley of potatoes, carrots, and green beans, also covered with a red glaze so the plate looked like a dust storm just hit and chile haze linked the flavors.
"Ricky's Special" featured three chalupas, one spread thickly with guacamole and shredded cheese, one with lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, and refried beans (that's the salad course), and one, a shallow caracol filled with taupe-colored refried beans quivering under a crust of melted cheese. Flautas were tight tubes of chicken, and the mole sauce is a wonder, red-brown, with more spice than sweet, but with that rich complexity and marvelous mouth-filling feel that makes good mole a luxury food.
We happened to visit Avila's on the eve of a huge family occasion--the 50th wedding anniversary of Mama and Papa Avila. Relatives were arriving from all over; the family was actually planning to close the place on a Saturday to prepare for the hundreds they expected for the--family-style--celebration.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Avila's, 4714 Maple, 520-2700. Open for lunch Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.- 2:30 p.m., for dinner 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m
Enchiladas Mexicanas $6.75
Ricky's special $5.50
Enchiladas frijoles negros $5.95
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.