Raul’s Mexican Restaurant in West Des Moines is another example of the second generation keeping a long-standing Des Moines restaurant tradition alive, not unlike Sam & Gabe’s. When I heard that family members were starting this familiar name back up I figured that I had to make my way there. That meant traveling to West Des Moines, a place I try to avoid given its long history of favoring chains and killing off chef-owned restaurants.
Not all old-line restaurants in Des Moines are even owned by the same family that started them and the continued success of many of those restaurants indicates that change can be good. But there are some traditions that we all hope can continue in the same spirit that made the originals great and after a five-year hiatus (2005-2010), the Hernandez family is working hard to keep the original tradition alive with Raul’s.
History. Des Moines natives are likely familiar with the old Raul’s on East Grand Avenue. Raul Hernandez opened his restaurant back in 1962. The old place was definitely a true Mexican restaurant, with great meals, a fantastic lunch buffet, and a certain proud attitude that meant that it handle both casual and formal crowds. With the new location, the Hernandez family is working to capture as much of that history as possible. More history is available on their web site.
Service. Service was pretty good. The wait staff managed to keep checking on our meals and drinks. I did note a few times when new guests would arrive and the entire dining area seemed to be missing all three waiters for a bit longer than was comfortable. The crowd was not huge, but for a mid-day evening there was a fairly continuous flow of customers.
Cuisine. The menu offers solid Mexican fare with few departures, which is a good choice given the large number of different restaurant choices available to diners in West Des Moines. Sure, the contrarian in a dining group can still order a hamburger, but this is a Mexican restaurant through and through. Since we were there for dinner, we did not try the lunch buffet, a favorite of mine at the original east-side Raul’s.
The Food. I ordered the tamale dinner as Raul’s tamales were a favorite of mine. The dish comes with Spanish rice, refried beans, and some shredded lettuce. These tamales are larger than tamales offered by some other Mexican-style restaurants in Des Moines. They are real tamales and come wrapped in corn husks. They were perfectly prepared, not too soggy and had a tasty pork filling. The pico de gallo sauce was served on shredded lettuce. It was tasty but I wish there was more. The tamale sauce was a hot dipping sauce and went well with the tamales.
We also ordered the corn enchilada dinner – called “Letter B” for some reason. This featured two corn enchiladas bathed in sauce and served with Spanish rice and refried beans. This was a standout. The enchiladas featured a smoky aroma and flavor that channeled me directly back to the old Raul’s. If for no other reason, this is an excuse to visit the new Raul’s.
The chips that come with with every meal are home-made and crispy. The sauce was surprisingly thin with no discernible chunks. It may have been the fact that we ordered the mild sauce. If you visit (and can handle hot sauces) let me know if the hotter sauce has anything in it. Anyway, it was a challenge to keep the sauce on the chip and the menu, my pants and the table top all suffered through the effort.
Location and Style. The location has served a number of restaurants over the years. I first recall it being the 8th Street Seafood Bar back in the ’80s. I lost track of the restaurants since then. The architecture of the building does not appear to share any “Mexican” attributes, being a ’70s-style boxy contemporary, but it has its own parking lot and is a stand-alone building. The building is the definition of bland on the outside but inside is well fitted out. There is a full bar along one side of the dining area. Dinner is served on Formica tables. There are not paper place mats or tablecloths.
Raul’s features the usual selection of drinks and a number of Margaritas — and served in larger glasses than those offered by Dos Rios. Hats off to Raul’s for giving me a reason to venture a couple of blocks into West Des Moines. I wish the Hernandez family the best.
Raul’s Mexican Restaurant
1261 8th Street
West Des Moines, IA 50265
Tuesday and Wednesday
11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday