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Don Pablos – Deptford, NJ

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Where have all the spray bottles gone?

Don Pablos – Deptford, NJ
Meal: Dinner / Weeknight / 7pm
Price: $35 (Includes Tip) for Two
Menu: Don Pablos Website

Located in the heart of the busy Deptford consumer spendaplex, Don Pablos has pretty stiff competition from the Applebees and Pizza Hut just a short skip across the street. If you’re shopping at the adjacent Target, Sam’s Club, or Best Buy, should you swing by Don Pablos for a Tex-Mex style lunch or dinner? After a reasonable hit in the wallet, we’re back from our undercover mission to tell you all about it.

The outside of Don Pablos seems more pleasing that most places. I like the big windows and colorful lighting you can see looking in. Parking is a little weird, with sort of a circular parking lot that may, at times, be borrowed by Target shoppers. You should be okay during the week, but weekends might require a little walking (come on, you need it). When we walked in on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday night, we were surprised to see several people waiting for a seat. When we queried the hostess, she said they were understaffed; there were clearly dozens of free tables available. That sort of thing might have turned us off instantly, but we wanted to review the place, so we headed to the bar to kill some time.

We immediately noticed what would be a recurring theme throughout the night – lots of sticky, not-quite-cleaned tables and chairs. Unless they were going for some kind of dive-bar authenticity, the bar itself needed a good painting and definitely a once-over with a clean rag and some all purpose cleaner. It wasn’t horrible, but Autumn didn’t want to sit down, and I suspect most other girls wouldn’t either. Still, I wanted to take advantage of their well-promoted $1.99 draft beer and see if I could get Autumn to drink herself into a less adversarial role. It mainly worked; I was able to select from several regular and light beers in a 16oz glass for the as-advertised $1.99. The bartender gave us the happy hour rate on Autumn’s malibu and diet coke without me even nagging her about it (we were only like 10 minutes late). Shortly after getting our drinks, the pager-thing buzzed and we were seated fairly quickly. Autumn remarked that her drink was very strong, which, regardless of your preferences, is always a good thing. Alcohol is expensive, and can always be diluted to taste. It’s far harder to get more alcohol if you get cheated. My coors light was cold and enjoyable, and definitely worth the cheap price tag.

When we were seated, the table and chairs were a little icky, and Autumn requested the waitress to clean the seat for her. She obliged, but unfortunately, it started raining on Autumn and we moved to a seat that wasn’t under bombardment by the air conditioning system, which was drippy in quite a few places. Taking a quick look around, there was just a lot of mess everywhere; material on the floors that weren’t swept up. Tables that weren’t bussed. No caution signs for the little puddles of ac-water (which they should do even if just for liability purposes). All in all, it was one of the worst efforts in cleanliness we’ve seen across all of our reviews.

Thankfully, the tortillas and salsa were shot out fairly quickly, which took our mind off our surroundings. We both very much liked the free appetizer, and were very tempted to have another batch if we weren’t casually watching our caloric intake. I ordered the fish tacos – something I’ve been craving for a while – and Autumn tried the grilled chicken fajita. Our waitress was pregnant, but worked hard, was polite, and earned a generous tip from us both. We noticed that the previously unseated area was now taking customers, and it appeared another wait staff had probably come off of break. By the time we left, there was clearly no wait for incoming patrons.

Our entrees didn’t take too long to come out, and we dug in. My fish tacos were on the disappointing side, and in re-reading my review of 99, I’d probably say that the one-size-fits-all 99 actually did this tex-mex dish better than the tex-mex restaurant. Autumn and I both agreed the mexican rice was on the dried-out side, and we both assumed they’d be a little better. I liked the refried beans, which is difficult to screw up, and Autumn and I both liked her corn cake, which tasted like granular corn bread. The fish tacos consisted of two soft tortillas (homemade and very good) each containing two inch-long blocks of (allegedly) mahi-mahi, lettuce, and salsa. Accompanying the dish was a weird creamy green sauce with a splash of citrus – I didn’t like it at all. There simply wasn’t enough fish to satisfy me, and if it really was mahi-mahi, then I did not like the way it was prepared. There didn’t appear to be any kind of other seafood enchilada or alternative seafood choice if you didnt want beef or chicken.

Autumn’s dinner was a much better experience. Her fajita came out sizzling and was instantly more appealing than my tacos. There was a decent amount of chicken, and more than enough green peppers and onions in a very good light-oil glaze. There was enough food for about 3.5 self-made fajitas, and I was the benefactor of Autumn getting full after the second one. We opted out of desert, but a couple choices were available including the quintessential mexican fried ice cream.

Overall, our scores reflect a mixed bag across our entrees, an interior that needed to give the Merry Maids several days of work, and some decent values on alcohol. We might return at some point in the future, but we’d probably stick to Moe’s or La Esperanza (not reviewed yet) if we’re in the mood for something with a Mexican kick.

Pros:

– $1.99 domestic beers, all the time
– Happy hour drink specials weekly
– Good chips and salsa
– Good fajitas

Cons:

– If we didn’t make it clear, it wasn’t very clean
– Being understaffed on a Tuesday night is a management error
– Not many seafood choices, with a subpar taco offering

Guru’s Score: 2.5
Autumn’s Score: 3.2

Combined Score: 2.85 Chews

 ★★★☆☆

Subjective rating: Treading water above the Mendoza line (if you understand what this means, I’ll be impressed).

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Don Pablos - Deptford, NJ, 3.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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