Acapulco Joe's Mexican Restaurant (fondly referred to by locals as Aca Joe's) in downtown Indianapolis serves up some of Indy's best Mexican food at a very reasonable price. Founded by Mexican immigrant Joe Rangel, at first glance this place may look like little more than a hole in the wall, but the line you're likely to see trailing out the door is a testament to what awaits inside.
The menu at Acapulco Joe's consists of typical Mexican fare -- tacos, enchiladas, burritos, nachos, tostadas, and the like. Every meal begins with the requisite free tortilla chips and salsa, but Acapulco Joe's chip dip stands apart from the crowd. The smooth, spicy, deep red sauce is served in plastic condiment bottles, reminiscent of the way ketchup is served in old-fashioned diners. If mild is your style, start by squeezing just a few drops on a chip -- a little goes a long way. If, like many folks, you can't get enough of the stuff, you can purchase a container to take home on your way out.
A few of Acapulco Joe's favorite entrees are featured at a reduced price during lunch hours, and a kids' menu caters to smaller appetites. Many combination entrees are available, some with Mexican rice and refried beans.
My personal favorite? Mis Tres Amigos (Spanish for "My Three Friends"), a platter consisting of one hard taco, a beef enchilada, and a cheese enchilada, smothered in cheese and served with shredded lettuce and sour cream. In my humble opinion, Mexican food doesn't get much better than this!
Mixed drinks and beer are available from the bar, along with the usual sodas and water.
The interior of Acapulco Joe's stands in contrast to the professional business clientele that frequents the establishment. The restaurant has a well-worn, hole-in-the-wall look and feel, with dark, wooden floors; some simple, scattered tables and chairs; and worn vinyl booths lining the walls. Murals of Mexican scenes and artwork that reminds me of velvet pain-by-number kits adorn the walls.
A long, narrow, step-up bar stands perpendicular to the entryway, and is open to the rest of the restaurant.
The place tends to be noisy in a good way, as conversation flows and servers bustle between the closely spaced tables. Outdoor seating under a street-side awning is available weather permitting. Orders are taken at the tables of this sit-down restaurant, but you pay at a cash register on your way out.
At the checkout, you'll find a bubble-gum machine, a basket of chocolate mint candies for sale, and a few souvenir items (hoodies, T-shirts and such emblazoned with the restaurant's logo) in a glass-enclosed case.If you happen to be there when the clock strikes noon, be prepared for the playing of a stirring rendition of God Bless America -- founder Joe's tribute to the country that made his dreams come true.
The food is truly delicious, with just the right amount of spice -- not too hot, but never bland. Portions are generous, and take-home containers are a common sight. The price is right too -- most entrees cost under $10. Service is always courteous and speedy.
And though it's hard to put a finger on, there's something about the Aca Joe's experience that makes you proud to be an American. Take a moment to read Joe Rangel's inspiring story of how the restaurant came to be on the back of the menu, and you'll feel it, too.
It's hard to find anything to complain about here, but if there's one negative, it would have to be the restrooms. You have to walk through a tight service area to get there (watch your step, as the floor slants here), and the facilities aren't much better than what you'd expect at a local gas station.