Wizard Needs Food Badly: Birthday Bash At La Altena

Monday, April 18, 2016 - by Paquita Maria Sanchez

My birthday was this past week, which of course meant a trip to a Mexican restaurant. After going through a few online reviews, I decided to celebrate at La Altena at 314 W. Main Street.

Lionel and I were particularly excited about dinner. For the past few years before moving to Chattanooga, we had been living abroad. And though we were lucky enough to try authentic food from around the world, we always missed the taste of American Mexican cuisine, something that could not seem to be replicated anywhere.

We arrived at La Altena right around 6. There were more cars in the parking lot than I expected on a weekday, and if the weather had been just a touch warmer, I would have been tempted to sit outside on the restaurant's colorful porch.

As it was, we sat at a booth near the front where I promptly announced it was my birthday.

The service was fast and friendly. Lionel ordered a 28 oz. Negra Modelo ($4.49) which the restaurant had on tap.

“The perfect size for a whole meal,” he explained.

I ordered a 12 oz. frozen margarita ($3.75). The drinks came in chilled glasses and were a dollar cheaper than usual, since we'd arrived during Happy Hour (4 – 8 pm). We were both pleased with our choices.

While we waited for our entrees, we snacked on cheese dip ($3.49) and the free chips and salsa. The salsa was blended, my favorite style—just the right balance of refreshing and spicy. I've never met a cheese dip I didn't enjoy, and this one was no exception.

Our meals came out fast, really fast, almost suspiciously fast, but it's hard to critique such good service. There had been some interesting items to choose from. The menu was pretty extensive and included house specialties as unique as Mojarra Frita ($9.99)—a whole deep fried fish—and Shrimp Soup ($9.99).

As much as Lionel and I like to be adventurous with our food, we also have our favorites, and we chose to stick to them.

I'd gotten a single order of chicken and steak fajitas ($9.49). It came with the usual: grilled onions, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as sides of rice, lettuce, sour cream, beans, pico de gallo, and my choice of flour or corn tortillas. Lionel ordered a large spicy steak chimichanga ($7.99), which came with similar sides.

Though the marinade on Lionel's steak was fantastic—I may have stolen a few bites off his plate—he mentioned that the chimichanga itself might have been crispier. As for my fajitas, I had no complaints. I suppose the plate of sides might have been larger, but for the price as it was, it was probably fair.

After eating, I opened my presents. Lionel always knows just what to get me: the newest season of Game of Thrones and The X-Files: Fight the Future on Blu-ray.

As happy as I was with my gifts, I was a bit disappointed as I packed up my leftovers. Had my waiter forgotten? No “Happy Birthday” in Spanish? No sombrero? No dessert?

But then there they were! Three waiters and a free plate of sopapillas with chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream!

They sang to me (in English) and put a silly sombrero on my head, something I was much more willing to wear after the delicious margarita.

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