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Emiliano's embraces Mexican fiesta atmosphere

| Saturday, April 28, 2012, 3:16 a.m.


Bennie Ulloa, who opened his first Western Pennsylvania restaurant two years ago in the North Hills, added a new outlet for his Mexican specialties on East Carson Street in April.


Can you say fiesta?

Although we visited on a pair of slow evenings, there's little question Emiliano's is reaching for an atmosphere that is fun and casual. Given time, it could be a good fit with the South Side's young crowd.

Walk in the door, and you're greeted with the pulsating beat of Mexican music. A selection of cactus characters, a large metal Aztec sun disk on the wall and a primitive wooden fountain in the corner help set the stage here. A flamenco dancer would be right at home here, clicking away on the red-tile floors.

The bright azure and gold walls call to mind a different kind of light. They are studded with photos of Mexico featuring Juan Grimaldo's hometown, Leon. Grimaldo, who manages Emiliano's restaurant in the North Hills, is preparing to move his act to the South Side as the new outlet takes off.

A small bar just off the entryway provides a broad selection of domestic and Mexican beers. And if you've a hankering for a custom margarita, Emiliano's offers no less than 20 brands of tequila. A TV above the bar plays Spanish-language shows.


Come hungry. The portions here are generous, filling and modestly priced.

As soon as we were seated, our server whisked a basket of warm tortilla chips and a medium-hot salsa to the table. Be forewarned of the temptation to fill up on chips. It would be a shame to waste your appetite on these teasers. On the other hand, if you're a salsa lover, you might want to try the Salsa Sampler ($3.99). It includes a traditional picosa, or tomato salsa, a salsa verde and a cilantro salsa. A traditional Guacamole ($2.99) studded with fresh onions offers another tasty option for starters.

We wanted to try the Queso Fundido ($8.99), but this mixture of chorizo, melted cheese and tomatillo sauce, prepared tableside, sounded too much like a meal on its own to couple with an entree.

Fajita fans -- and I was accompanied by two of them -- might want to cheer for the fajitas here. The Fajitas Cancun ($13.99), a generous portion of grilled scallops and shrimp, arrived on a huge sizzling plate brimming with a bright medley of seasoned red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes and the occasional potato gem. The Fajitas Texanas ($12.99) included the same vegetable mix accented by a selection of shrimp, chicken and steak.

All fajitas can be ordered in plates for two, as well. The platter of guacamole veggies, sour cream, pico de gallo, tomatillos and refried beans that came with the fajita platter was more an afterthought to the flavorful meat and vegetables we stuffed into our soft, warm tortillas.

The Burrito Cancun ($12.99), filled with grilled shrimp, beans, onions, peppers and tomatoes, came topped with a flavorful red sauce.

Emiliano's offers a variety of meals "from the grill" for those who aren't big on the enchiladas, burritos and fajitas that are the bread and butter of most Mexican restaurants. Popeye Pollo ($12.99), grilled, marinated chicken breast topped with spinach cheese sauce; Carne Asada ($12.99), grilled steak with Mexican seasonings; and Camarones al Mojo de Aje ($13.99), a garlic-marinated grilled shrimp, served with grilled onions, are among the long list of options available for another visit.

Grimaldo told us Favorito ($13.99) has become a local favorite in recent weeks. Milder than many of the spicy offerings, the dish features marinated shrimp, scallops and chicken strips and sauteed vegetables served over a plate of rice and topped with cheese, ranchero sauce and sour cream. This one was enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

Emiliano's also provides a wide variety of options for vegetarian diners on a menu section labeled Para los Vegetarianos.

Of course, we can't leave a Mexican restaurant without trying the Sopapillas ($2.99). The light honey-cinnamon flour tortilla wedges bring back memories of the Southwest. We'll leave the Fried Ice Cream ($4.99) for another time.

Additional Information:

Emiliano's Mexican Grill and Bar

Cuisine: Mexican

Hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Entree price range: $9.99-$13.99

Notes: Large selection of tequilas and imported beers. Major credit cards accepted.

Location: 2557 E. Carson St., South Side

Details: 412-381-2229 or

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