Sometimes restaurants come and go before I can even get in to check them out. Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill across from the Rabobank Arena had a long run -- we got there several times -- but after that closed it became a Mexican restaurant that didn't last.
Enter Jesus Briseno, general manager of the new Sol Y Luna. They've completely transformed the interior, with dark walls and bright colors, and devised a menu that offers everything you'd hope to find in a Mexican restaurant.
There's even a separate fajitas section. I can remember when those were a novelty and now I'm hard pressed to think of a single Mexican restaurant in town that doesn't offer at least the beef and chicken variety.
The Sol Y Luna menu has both "specialties" and "favorites" so we had some tough, tough decisions.
My companion selected the enchiladas suizas ($10.95) from the specialties portion of the menu and I had to go for the camarones a la Mexico ($12.95), mostly due to the tempting way they were described on the menu.
Both were solid choices. My companion is positively addicted to the enchiladas suizas served at Los Agaves, a humble but busy Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara, located on Milpas Street. The green sauce is creamy like gravy, the chicken breast meat inside fire grilled and mixed with just enough jack cheese to hold the whole thing together, all crowned with a melted slice of Swiss cheese on top.
Authentic? Probably not, but a distinctly California version.
I found what Sol Y Luna serves to be just as satisfying, with a tartness to the green sauce that was such a stark contrast to the relatively subdued poultry inside.
My dish was just as winning, with nine medium shrimp and a charming combination of finely minced vegetables that included yellow and green peppers as well as onions, but the tomatoes promised on the menu were missing. All of this swimming in butter.
The vegetables were practically begging to be folded into the rice and placed in the center of a tortilla, with or without the shellfish. I can forgive them for forgetting the tomatoes.
Our biggest disappointment was the dessert called "Hope's Sunset," which was described as vanilla ice cream and "melted chocolate" wrapped in a deep fried flour tortilla.
The chocolate tasted suspiciously like plain old Hershey's syrup, though I do have to give them props for presenting what appears to be a pretty conventional deep-fried ice cream ball inside a fried tortilla bowl. It looked like something you'd find under the sea.
We'll be back to try the sour cream enchiladas, which sound very tempting. And there is a pretty big patio out front, though no one was dining there when we visited.
I should mention they have a long list of lunch specials right now for only $7.95, the happy hour runs from 3 p.m. to close Monday through Saturday, features 22-ounce Mondo beers for $4, margaritas for $3.50, carne asada tacos for $1 and various appetizers for $5.50. (A reader had already sent me a note telling me it was his favorite happy hour.) Menudo is available on Saturdays.
The staff was very attentive when we visited, with the dining room only about one-third full. My companion didn't want a second glass of wine but three different folks walking by asked if she wanted another. You won't want for attention here.