Pablo's Mexican Restaurant (Shakopee, MN)
Pablo's has been around for 20 years, ever since Pablo and his family moved to Minnesota from Southern California. The food isn't the traditional Mexican you'll find in the taquerias in South Minneapolis, nor is it really Tex-Mex. It's Cal-Mex, an Americanized version of Mexican food created by early immigrants who settled in California. Think Taco Bell, only much tastier.
As served at Pablo's, "Americanized" means "not at all spicy."
Pablo's menu consists of mostly Mexican standards -- tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and so on -- in a variety of combinations. Some of the combinations come with both refried beans and Spanish rice, while others come with beans or rice. Fillings include seasoned ground beef, spicy shredded beef, chicken, pork and beans.
The problem with Pablo's food can be summed up in one word: bland. Yes, we realize that this is Minnesota, and that lots of people don't like spicy food. But our most spice-phobic friend found Pablo's food too bland.
You'll notice this as soon as you sit down. As in many Mexican restaurants, you'll be given a bowl of chips and salsa. The salsa is no more spicy than ketchup. They have a spicier version, and we strongly recommend you ask for it. Use some of it to spice up the bland salsa, and save the remainder to enhance the rest of your meal. Even a little extra zip improves the food here.
The best meat on the menu is the spicy shredded beef. The pork is OK, but the chicken and the ground beef are flavorless. The best way to order your meat is inside a chile relleno. If you've never had one, a chile relleno is a mild green pepper stuffed with meat and cheese, then coated with an eggy batter and fried. It comes covered in sauce. Spice it up, and it's pretty good.
Also OK are the enchiladas and the burritos served enchilada style. Order these as entrees and you'll get a large meal, with rice and refried pinto beans.
The fish tacos aren't improved by being made with breaded fish, although the avocado cream sauce was good. And the fajitas were only OK. We tried the shrimp fajitas, and while the shrimp were good, they weren't enough to flavor the dish.
Appetizers are also a mixed bag. We liked the tortilla soup, a surprisingly flavorful soup with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, cheese and tortilla strips. The quesadilla was OK, too, especially if you order it with jalapeno peppers. We didn't care for the stuffed olives. Nor did we like the stuffed jalapeno peppers, called jalitos. And the sauces, which were ranch dressing for the former and seasoned sour cream for the latter, didn't help.
Pablo's is a popular restaurant, as the people filling the tables every night attest. But we wish they would kick up the spice level just a little bit. There really is such thing as too bland for Minnesota.
Pablo's Mexican Restaurant
Where: 230 Lewis St. S, Shakopee
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11-8:30. Fri and Sat 11-9:30
Atmosphere: Ethnic family restaurant
Service: Well-meaning but sloppy
Sound level: Not too noisy
Recommended dishes: Tortilla soup, shredded beef chile relleno
Prices: entrees $7–$12
Children: Kid-friendly with a kids' menu