Since opening in 2007, Hola! has become a mainstay for consistent Latin cuisine. With a menu that features traditional dishes from Peru & Mexico and an extensive tequila bar, Hola! offers authenticity without overkill, relying on fresh, hand-made dishes and a casual, fun dining experience. From tableside guacamole ($9), to shaker-size margarita portions ($7-10), and two convenient locations serving lunch and dinner, say hello to a seasoned restaurant with staying power.Visiting the East Side location for lunch, the intoxicating smells of tortilla chips frying and carne asada roasting took me back to the year I spent in the Barrio of Tucson, Arizona. Back then, I lived beside the oldest Mexican restaurant in town, El Charro, where house specialty carne seca was air dried daily in a cage hanging over the roof. The smell of Mexican comfort food is as much of a feature of life in the Barrio as the sweltering heat, and the smell of Hola! reminded me of Tucson.
The Specialty Cocktail list features creative margaritas and other Latin libations including Pisco sours, mojitos, and caipirinhas. The Red Cactus Margarita is to Hola! as Mt. Bachelor is to Bend, if only Hola! could offer a season pass to this prickly pear based cocktail. The jury is out on who mixes a better cocktail, bartender Braden (at the Old Mill Hola!) or owner Marcos? All specialty drinks come with a stainless steel shaker, adding one to two refills and lending outstanding value to the price of these drinks.
My guest, who ordered the Mole Poblano ($11), did so with the intention of judging the entire restaurant in two or three bites. Bellwethers such as mole in a Latin restaurant, Caesar salad in many American restaurants, and clean bathrooms in all restaurants can leave him either disappointed or paying for my drinks. In this case, a Pisco Sour followed lunch. With the traditional hint of chocolate and cinnamon in the mole sauce, he enjoyed the flavor of the dish wishing only that the pork was more flavorful on its own, perhaps salted more generously before being cooked or being cooked more slowly in the sauce.
My other guest ordered the Tamale de Puerco ($10). The impressive plate was piled high with a colorful garnish of cilantro, mango, caramelized red onion, and tomato. The masa was rich and dense, different from the lighter, grainier version she'd subsisted on in our native Tucson, but still good. The meat filling was full of flavor and the spicy red sauce brought all of the elements together.
I ordered the Seco de Pollo ($12), a traditional Peruvian stew. The broth was a vibrant green color from the aji-amarilla chili cilantro ingredients, and loaded with flavor. The spices were balanced by thick cuts of vegetables: sweet yams, home-fried potatoes, caramelized onions, and peas. This dish made tortilla soup want to run for cover. There was also a nice portion of chicken, although as with the mole, I wondered why the meat hadn't been cooked more slowly to soak up the goodness of the broth.
The Pisco Sour ($8.50) was a tasty mix of Peruvian brandy, whipped egg whites, and cinnamon/nutmeg, but the Red Cactus Margarita still holds the torch.
The steady lunch crowd appeared happy and well-fed; the mix of Latin music complemented the fun, casual atmosphere. Banquettes line the perimeter of windows and a bar with a dozen seats wraps around the open kitchen. Minor refurbishments such as repainting nicked chairs and refreshing the artwork might give Hola! on the East side more of the panache of its newer location. But then again, as distant as Tucson is from Bend, with its own flavor and flair, Hola! brings the Barrio to Bend.
(Forum Shops). 2670 NW Hwy 20. 541.389.4652. Open Daily 11am-10pm. www.holabend.com