With a happy staff, happy environs and happy food, Hola had me at, well, hola. Big, bright and generous in every way, Hola's new location in the Old Mill has retained all the qualities that made the restaurant a success on the east side, but has given those of us who can't bring ourselves to dine next to a Costco the opportunity to sample some of Bend's boldest and most interesting flavors. Just a month after opening, it seems the word is already out. With a mixed crowd of moviegoers (it's new neighbor is Regal Cinemas), tourists shopping for socks and longtime loyal customers of Hola Uno, business is bustling. As I overheard one of the servers joke, Hola Tres may not be too far off.
And it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch. Locally owned and run, service was not only cheerful, but incredibly efficient, anticipating my every need - from drinks to ordering to more drinks to the check, everything was offered before I had to ask. The spacious room is as lively and colorful as the long list of specialty drinks, and the tequila flows freely. It may seem that $9.50 for a mango margarita or mojito is pricey, but every delicious concoction comes with a shaker containing a refill or two, making it one of the better deals around. Along with great service and great cocktails, the meal was rife with nice touches like complimentary pieces of "Mexican" pineapple soaked in tequila, warm tortilla chips and two kinds of salsa, one more traditional and one excellent green cilantro salsa that tasted almost like Indian coriander chutney. Those are the kinds of details that elevate a good meal to a great experience.
The menu, self-described as "nuevo Mexican Peruvian," is overwhelming at first, mostly because everything sounds so good. I pretty much ignored the classic Mexican section on the back of the menu, though I'm sure Hola does burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas as good as any. I was far more interested in the long list of Peruvian-influenced, nuevo Mexican and fusion dishes. To start, we went with the traditional Peruvian fish ceviche ($12) marinated in citrus and aji Amarillo (chiles) with salsa criolla topped with slices of yam and toasted cancha, a Peruvian corn. It was fresh, flavorful and light and a perfect start. Next time it's going to be either Tiraditos ($9), ahi sashimi with Peruvian ponzu with a truffle vinaigrette infusion, or the de Puerco ($12), house-made achiote, red masa and pulled pork served with sour cream, guacamole and tomatillo sauce. Can't wait.
Choosing our entrees was equally difficult. We each had a minimum of three that we couldn't decide among. With the help of our server, we went with the Marcos Pollo ($16). It was not for the faint of heart. Seriously. Don't miss it, but take your cholesterol meds first. Strips of chicken and mushrooms were sautéed in a chipotle cream sauce so rich and delicious it could only be fully appreciated in slow, small bites. Our other entrée, the Tacos de Halibut ($17), was a more traditional Mexican preparation made with perfectly seasoned and flaky grilled halibut with a mango-passion glaze and the usual fixings. They were pretty straightforward, but very well executed.
With dishes like bacon-wrapped shrimp in creamy mango wine sauce ($20) and Peruvian Tataki spicy tuna ($19) with a key-lime infused mashed potato cake still left untried, I have a feeling I'll be back soon. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
680 Powerhouse Dr, Old Mill District, 647-2711, 2670 NE Highway 20, Forum Shopping Center, 389-4652
Lunch and dinner daily.