Tios spicy new digs does nothing for the taste buds
CHRIS ASADIAN THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Sitting on a bean bag chair facing a glowing TV, I took my first bite of a quesadilla delivered from Tio’s Mexican Café. I was having celebratory drinks with some classmates after our calculus exam, and I was starving.
That was five years ago, when chicken quesadillas were my food equivalent to kryptonite. Biting into the squishy, shredded chicken-filled quesadilla, my stunted taste buds could tell something wasn’t right. The overpowering ratio of chicken to tortilla tasted bland and turned me off. Maybe it was the alcohol, but, after a while, I gave up eating.
Since then, I only visited Tio’s old Ann Arbor location on E. Huron Street once to pick up nachos with a friend. The tiny restaurant was dark and wood-paneled like the hull of a ship decorated by rows of hot sauce. After Tios moved to a new location on 409 E. Liberty St., I thought, “Why not give it a try?”
Tios certainly has moved on up. For one thing, the dining room is more than double the size of the old place.
“We were a dive at the other spot,” said Jeremy Seaver, general manager and son of owner Tim Seaver.
The new location is more family friendly with its golden walls, burnt red moldings and an overhang painted sky blue with fluffy clouds. Several paintings by local artists mimic the work of Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
Old customers might be a little disappointed that Tios has mixed its old quirkiness with a more professional vibe. The staff no longer wears the tie-dyed Tio’s shirts. But Tio’s diehards can sit in what Jeremy Seaver calls “old Tios” – basically, a booth and table from the old restaurant backed-up against a wall of hot sauces.
Business has also been good. Smack-dab in the center of downtown, the new location has attracted old customers and newbies passing by.
“There’s more people that walk by in an hour than would walk by over [on E. Huron Street] in two days,” Tim Seaver said.
The expanded menu offers the old place’s “a la carte” items. Prices and portions are the same, and the chefs haven’t changed. Yet, I am baffled that this business receives awards and is a local favorite. Am I expecting too much now that it’s a sit-down restaurant?
Tios, round two, began on a sunny lunch-hour with my friend, Bill Hubenschmidt, who’s been gorging himself on southwestern food in Austin, Texas.
Sitting in the outdoor section, we ordered chips and salsa.
Sure, I’m a cheap college student, but $1.49 for chips and salsa?
When Tios adds alcohol, it’ll consider having free chips and salsa, Jeremy Seaver said. He adds that the cost of complimentary munchies is usually built into a restaurant’s prices.
Alright, you got me. We ordered the chips with medium and hot salsa. What we got was homemade salsa that seriously lacked spiciness. To be fair, Bill and I are chronic spice-addicts, meaning we expect spicy food to make us cry and sweat simultaneously.
When my wet burrito and Bill’s three tacos arrived, I almost did a tribal dance to the nacho gods at the sight of my colossal burrito sprinkled with cheese and basking in a pool of orangey-red sauce.
Jeremy Seaver said the wet burrito is Tio’s specialty. But after plopping the cheesy, gooey morsel of wet burrito into my mouth, I regretted paying the $7.99.
Hoping that I hadn’t wasted my money, denial set in. I cut further into the burrito, allowing the wet burrito sauce to mingle with the equally unappetizing goo of cheese, onions, tomatoes, beef and beans that oozed out of the burrito sack.
Its cheesy taste was appealing, but the lack of texture kind of killed it for me. Eventually I barricaded the moat of wet burrito sauce with the uneaten corner of my burrito, hoping that the sauce was the culprit.
Bill wasn’t having much success either with his Portobello taco, edamame taco (aka soy beans) and “authentico” taco. His tortillas fell apart while he tried to force feed himself.
A half hour later, we left unsatisfied taste-wise, yet uncomfortably full.
Our bill totaled $25 – a little steep for a meal that hung its hat on large portions and excellent guacamole. If I had eaten just chips with the guacamole and salsa, I would’ve been happy.
When they get that liquor license, I’ll consider coming back and having nachos with a few margaritas. Maybe the drunken taste buds will make for a better dining experience.