Restaurant Spotlight: Abuelos, Lakeland

Say hello to Agustin De La Rosa, the statue near the entrance of Abuelo’s restaurant at Lakeside Village in Lakeland. He was a priest who used his money to help children. The chain is named for the grandfather figure and there is a statue of him in each restaurant, like the one in the town square of Guadalajara, Mexico.

Dean Andrews, managing partner, has had six years as honcho making everyone happy.

That’s sort of easy with a menu about as long as the Mexican coastline and a kitchen that makes 98 percent of everything from scratch. That means it’s easy to customize meals. Refried beans can be had without animal products and queso can be gluten-free.

You can dine in small rooms, large rooms, booths, tables and at a long bar, or bring your Chihuahua and enjoy the patio. Servers are in black with long aprons that help with the classy look.

Dean says his restaurant opened on March 18, 2007, and many of today’s 21 kitchen staff were there then. Because one person owns the 41-unit chain, no one has to answer to shareholders before making changes. “He let’s you run the restaurant to please the community with consistency but still like a mom and pop.” Dean says.

Pescado Guerrero

The menu is in constant flux, with dishes added after diners say they like them, and less popular items taken off. Dean says the food is as authentic Mexican as it can be in a restaurant kitchen in the middle of Florida. The origin is in Jalisco, an important state on the west side of the country with Guadalajara as the capital.

For the person who eats everything and lots of it, Dean says, “The Grande” in the Traditional Tex-Mex section of the menu weighs 4½ pounds. That’s the equivalent of the meat in 18 quarter-pound burgers. You get three enchiladas (one beef, one cheese and one sour cream chicken), a cheese chile relleno, tamale, crispy beef taco and guacamole, and not that you should need them, refried beans and potatoes or rice for $15.99. The take-home box is free.

One of the original dishes is still a big favorite. Los Mejores de la Casa is wood-grilled, bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin medallions and bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with fresh jalapenos and blended cheeses. It’s the most expensive dish on the menu at $20.99 and well worth it.

Stuffed chicken medallions is another favorite. It has rounds of chicken breast stuffed with chorizo, poblano peppers and cheese then lightly fried. It is $15.29 at dinner.

The top of the fish list goes to Pescado Guerrero. That’s wood-grilled fillets of barramundi topped with fresh shrimp, scallops, mushrooms, spinach, roasted peppers and sliced avocado in a white wine sauce. Yummy!

With so many flavors, it’s like eating a tasty jigsaw puzzle.

Three traditional desserts can end your meal. Tres Leches Cake (Three Milk Cake), Sopapillas, and Traditional Flan. Dean says the same woman has been making the flan for years. And, take it from a big flan fan . . . it’s delicious.

3700 Lakeside Village Blvd
Lakeland, FL

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