The Fajita Grill

By | February 9, 2006

The Fajita Grill
5865 Ellsworth Ave
Shadyside, 15232
(412) 362-3030
T-Sun 11am-4am; 5pm-10pm

This restaurant’s name is eponymous with its specialty: fajitas.  No where around these parts will you find a finer fajita, with all the options you could dream up, and plenty of toppings.   In fact, you won’t just find fine fajitas at the Fajita Grill.  It could equally be named The Flauta House, The Quesadilla Corner, or The Molé Holé, because just about everything here is a winning dish.

First of all, the environment of the restaurant is vibrant and colorful.  The restaurant is a transformed house where the downstairs is the main eating area.  There is an additional upstairs eating area when the flow of customers is high.  And in summer, the outdoor seating cannot be beat!  The owner’s wife tends to an elaborate courtyard garden in which you dine, replete with a fountain and all kinds of funky decorative garden pieces.  There are plants on every surface, some of which you aren’t likely to see in many gardens around here.  It is a beautiful place to eat, especially when the cool breezes pass through.  It is one of my most highly rated outdoor eating experiences, next to Il Pizzaiolo.  In general, the feel of the restaurant is slightly upscale.  This always makes me feel like a margarita with my fajita, but the Fajita Grill is BYOB which I almost always forget.  A bottle of wine or some beers are easy to transport, but bringing a pitcher of margaritas is a lot of trouble (although on a sunny evening in the courtyard garden this would be sublime).

Even though the feel of the Fajita Grill is upscale, you should know there are two price levels at which you can dine.  Most of the menu is upper $$, but there is one page in the back that is lower $$ to upper $.  It only has four items, including their delicious flauta and burrito, but you can pick any filling and any sauce off of a long list.  You can get a bean and cheese burrito with molé sauce, or a beef enchilada with habenero.  My personal fave is to order the flauta stuffed with shredded chicken, topped with sour cream, guacamole, and feta cheese (a recreation of a dish they used to specifically offer, but have since abandoned in favor of this pick-and-choose menu).  Likewise, you could order a quesadilla as a dinner.  They have all kinds of traditional and exotic fillings, like crazy mushrooms and grilled swordfish – you are sure to find one you like.  If you want a romantic date but don’t have the cash, order off either of these menus to keep yourself in budget.  There isn’t anything wrong with it either.  I die for the flauta, and I know people who are nuts for the amply portioned enchiladas.  And my brother Ben, who worked at the Fajita Grill briefly when he lived here for a few months, chose quesadillas out of all the tasty menu items when they gave him his free daily meal.  It is their own fault that they make such yummy cheap eats!

However, if you are in the mood to spend a little cash, you should strongly consider ordering off of the rest of the menu.  The fajitas really are amazing!  Sure, you can get them with chicken or beef, or chicken and beef (Reed’s favorite), but you can also get them with vegetables, scallops, lobster, tropical fruit, pork, and yellowfin tuna, among other things.  The vegetable fajita is really wonderful (for all the vegetarians and dieters out there) and includes all kinds of grilled veggies.  In addition to onions and peppers, which come with all fajitas, there are eggplants, squashes, carrots, and portabella mushrooms.  They are all grilled and a little caramelized, and completely delicious.  All fajitas come with an edible bucket of toppings that includes cheese, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, fresh guacamole and a lemon wedge.  This bucket arrives before the fajita, which is almost unbearable because there is this little package of deliciousness that stares you down while you wait for your fajita to arrive.  I’m always so excited for the sizzle that the wait seems especially long.  But then you hear it coming (hopefully not for the table next door)!  And when they place it down in front of you, you can see through the steamy smoke that your sizzling cast-iron plate is in the shape of a cow!  How fitting!  Slather up those flour tortillas and dig in, my friend!

But the fajitas are only one page of a long menu.  There are various beef, chicken, and seafood dishes, as well as combos, quesadillas, soups and appetizers.  The ‘Boat Dip’ on the apps menu is sooo good, with beans, guac, sour cream, and feta.  MMM.  But, unfortunately, the chips here are not the best.  I think they make the in house….but like yesterday.  They are stale or tough.  I’ve rarely had a good chip here.  With the Boat Dip, this is OK, as the chip is just a convenient transportation device for the dip which takes center stage.  However, I don’t recommend getting chips and salsa because the glaring problems of the chip take over.  It is too bad because the salsa is pretty good.  I don’t know why they can’t fix this.  I’ve overheard other customers send back chips with complaints of staleness on multiple occasions.  I’d say they can’t take a hint, but that isn’t even a hint!  It is a direct complaint!  Also, I might be able to excuse a bad chip if they were free or something, but you pay some (nominal) fee for their chips.  It is a little outrageous.

Now, one should be able to judge a Mexican restaurant by its chip alone, but the Fajita Grill blows that theory right out of the water because everything else is so good!  In particular, their versions of traditional Mexican dishes are always right on.  The Molé is a gustation sensation, and if you are a big molé fan then you will find that this is by far the best one around (please let me know if I am wrong!).  Its intense flavors enrobe simple flat chicken breasts, and that is the extent of it.  I think that it could be overwhelming for some, but not for a true lover!  With every bite I savor the complex taste trying to guess all the different flavors, and I am always glad that there is more because I never seem to be able to figure it out.  And this is just one of the special dishes that stand out in my mind!  The spicy entomatado and the gigantic paella are both very good, but just explore the menu on your own and you will find your groove.

And finally, a good rule at any restaurant is to order a special of the day, and that especially holds true at the Fajita Grill.  They usually have some sort of appetizer, a special fajita, and a fish dish.  They also sometimes have something really blazingly authentic!!  Once I got this amazing chicken stew that was very spicy and deeply flavored.  I had no idea what I was eating, but it was so good!  In fact, I was reliving the dish in my head just a couple days ago, which is what spurred me to write this review.  Try to think of a specific special you had at a restaurant 3 years ago…..can you do it?  If you can, it is a testament to that chef’s ability to craft an expert dish.  The Fajita Grill is just that memorable, whether it’s a special, a regular offering, or an item off the cheap menu.  It is the mark of a truly great restaurant.


Chips without a Boat Dip

The Fajita Grill owners also run Si Senor in the UC of Carnegie Mellon.  Si Senor is pretty good (way funky fillings in very giant burritos), especially for CMU’s campus fare which is notoriously boring.  But I want to emphasize that Fajita Grill is nothing like Si Senor.  Fajita Grill serves all different foods and is way better in all departments where there is overlap.

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