El hamburger?

Sammy’s El Pueblo: Mexican and gourmet burgers

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The Pick Three Platter with Chile Relleno, Chile Mixto and Pork Tamale at Sammy’s El Pueblo

The end of February is not a time for delicate hints of flavor, subtle notes of spice or wisps of well, anything. PIP (Palate In Progress) and I set out on a recent dark night in search of something to vanquish winter’s bleakness. The cold that night was the kind of bone-chilling frigid which calls for ample amounts of heavy, cheesy, peppery food. (And a margarita to soften the pain of re-entry into the brutality of a long Ohio winter.) El Pueblo and Sammy’s Gourmet Burgers, located on North Main Street in front of the Dorothy Lane Market serves up just such fare. The name might be cumbersome but it certainly lets you know exactly what’s on their menu.

Saved by the burger

I was in the mood for some gustatory heat to counter winter’s arctic blasts, but PIP not so much. A burger with onion rings is his version of winter comfort food. But where to satisfy both of our cravings? Was this going to end in a marital squabble? Whose turn was it to pick the dinner place? Neither of us had to compromise with the El Pueblo/Sammy’s mash up. Burgers and Mexican at the same place? Whew! Relationship restored thanks to owner Sammy Flores, who created the Springboro hybrid from his two successful Blue Ash restaurants, Sammy’s and El Pueblo. The best of both worlds rendered no choosing necessary.

Judging from the crowd, a lot of folks seem to agree with this philosophy. Booths and tables were jammed with families and couples. We arrived at the tail end of happy hour as our waitress kindly informed us, so if I wanted a margarita she would quickly place the order to ensure the lower price of $3.59. Unfortunately, this margarita had a really strong commercial mix taste and was way too sweet. A better choice would be a cold brew from Sammy’s beer list to accompany either cuisine.

We munched chips and salsa as we made our dining choices. The salsa, a spicy smooth blend, is made in-house daily. It was fresh tasting and hot, though it can be ordered hotter according to the menu. We began with a warm queso fundido dip with chorizo ($5.49) served in a small ceramic skillet. The mild and gooey cheese was just what I was looking for, though the chorizo lacked spice. PIP’s onion rings ($3) were the standard batter-dipped thick slices served with a chipotle mayo condiment.

Broth boss

The highlight of my night was the Sopa Azteca ($6.50), with a heap of shredded chicken bathing in steaming, spicy, tomatoey chicken broth. A dollop of sour cream floated atop this ‘scare the freakin’ cold right outta you’ bowl of hot soupy goodness. (A bowl of this accompanied by some chips and dip could be a meal in itself.) One small complaint – the tortilla strips at the bottom were a little too mushy. It would have been nice to taste a little crunchy texture. My real complaint with the soup is that it was served after my entrée, along with the guacamole ($3.99) I had ordered. It should be Serving 101 to not put the entire food order in if appetizers and soups are ordered. Invariably the result is a table full of food arriving all at once or in the wrong order.

As to the entrées, PIP’s Fire in the Hole burger ($9.50) arrived medium rare on a toasted bun. The burger featured BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese and a deep fried jalapeño. It wasn’t as rare as he would have liked, but tasty. All burgers come with fries, but since he was having fried onion rings, PIP inquired about substituting. Our server suggested rice but she didn’t mention the $1 up charge, which we didn’t discover until the bill was presented. It’s fine for a restaurant to charge for a substitution, but it’s mandatory to inform the customer when ordering.

I got to customize an entree with the Pick Three Platter ($12.95). Mine featured a Chile Relleno, a Chile Mixto and a Pork Tamale served with beans and rice. The Relleno, a poblano peeper dipped in egg wash and fried with a cheesy filling was topped with a red enchilada style sauce. The Chili Mixto was a green pepper served open faced stuffed with ground beef, cheese, and lots of black pepper. Both were good, but my favorite was the Tamale. What’s more stick-to-your-ribs than shredded bits of pork wrapped in a soft white cornmeal blanket? The platter portions were generous and we boxed up about half to take home for later. Because, well, dessert. I can’t pass up a traditional Mexican Flan ($3.99). The sweet egg custard proved a nice creamy foil to the peppery hotness of my meal choices. Our bill came to a reasonable $53.43 plus tip.

All in all, the food at El Pueblo/Sammy’s offers no surprises. There’s nothing new here – just ample portions of Americanized Mexican standards. But when you want a burger and fries and your significant other craves cheesy Mexican, you can get your needs met and save your relationship. El Pueblo and Sammy’s Gourmet Burgers’ strength is familiar dishes prepared in familiar comfort style. It’s a nice, affordable place to take grandpa out for a burger, and then zing him with some zesty soup and salsa. He might just order the burger with the fried jalapeño next time.

Sammy’s El Pueblo is located at 776 N. Main St. in Springboro. For more information, please call 937.550.0430 or visit sammyselpueblo.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Paula Johnson at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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