As I rode John Flannery's Green Energy bus to Sunriver for the soft opening of Hola!, the third in the growing family of Mex-Peruvian restaurants, I couldn't pass up the chance to help coin the new restaurant's nickname. "Hola! Hola! Hola!" was one idea, but owners Marcos and Alberto Rodriguez thought it too long for the Sunriver signs. Hola³! was another idea but co-owner Peter Loews said it was too mathematical for margaritas. We arrived in Sunriver before settling on a moniker, but as we waited for a table another idea came to mind. "Hola Tres" was my final plea, but a margarita arrived before I could say, "Uno, dos, tres!"
A public Facebook invite and free ride to Sunriver drew a crowd of hundreds to the "soft open" in late March. The place was packed. The glitterati of Bend were out in full style. While many longstanding customers were forced to wait for the privilege of a sneak preview (albeit with margaritas), we all left happy.
I returned the following week when things had calmed down. My companion and I arrived on the eve of a spring snowstorm. The restaurant sits on the Deschutes River with large windows overlooking the water. The vaulted, rustic interior of the The Trout House remains intact, but Hola! adds Latin flair with bright wall accents and an impressive collection of tequila.
We were greeted warmly and escorted to a table adorned with a fragrant tulip. Chips arrived with Hola!'s signature tomato and bright green cilantro salsa. My companion ordered a Mexican martini and instructed the server to bring him a Spicy Maracuya Mojito after he'd finished the martini. I ordered the Capirihanas de Maracuya, a fantastic cocktail with Cachaca, a Brazilian liquor similar to rum, but made with sugarcane rather than molasses. With muddled lime, simple syrup and passion fruit, this cocktail might be my new favorite. The seasonal fruit margaritas, including the fresh huckleberry margarita, are not to be missed.
For dinner, my companion and I began with the portabella/epazote quesadilla. The Mexican herb epazote added a grown-up sophistication to this kid-friendly favorite, with subtle flavors of mint, tarragon and citrus, while the mushrooms provided just enough rich and earthy flavor. Accompanying the quesadilla were sour cream and house guacamole. My companion devoured most of it while I saved some room for my entrée.
The Lenguado de Chorillo ($19) is named after a coastal town in Peru where fishermen drop nets and the local seafood is the backbone of their cuisine. Ali panca chile, roasted tomatoes and wok-fried onions clung to fresh halibut, prawns and calamari. The dish was cooked just right with quinotto, quinoa done risotto style, accompanying the entree. The Lenguado was nicely executed - slightly smoky, balanced and well seasoned. My only criticism was the portion of seafood; a few more calamari would've made it perfect.
My companion selected Carne Azada ($19) - an old favorite served with warm corn (or flour) tortillas, rice and beans, marinated and grilled meat and chimichurri sauce. I must admit, he orders this dish nine out of ten times that we visit Hola!, which serves as a testament to the kitchen staff's consistency. He cannot say enough about this plate of food. Whether dining at the new location in Sunriver, the Old Mill, or eastside Forum location - the Carne Azada entree is consistently satisfying.
An intermezzo of El Salvadorian papusas followed. The warm, pancake-like rounds are made from fresh masa and stuffed with house-made Mexican cheese. The papusas are griddled until toasted and soft (and delicious) on the inside.
At this point, Marcos swung by our table to pour a shot of specialty tequila. The fact that the owner goes out of his way to say hello, check in with tables, and pour some tequila during lulls between courses is something that I love about Hola!. Marcos spoke candidly about the new Sunriver venture, his young -- but talented -- staff and how busy he's going to be this summer. As our conversation winded down, dessert arrived.
Chef Jose had prepared a mango-huckleberry cobbler with a puffy, baked crust and vanilla bean ice cream. Cobbler traditionalists beware - this tropical tart/sweet combination may cause you to completely abandon apple and peach cobblers for good. The portion was large enough for the two of us to share - a great ending to our second meal.
With food that excites, cocktails that make you smile and a breathtaking setting in beautiful Sunriver, Hola! appears slated for success this spring/summer. Hold on to your sombreros, Sunriver; serious flavor has just arrived.
57235 River Rd
Mon. - Thurs. 11am to 9pm; Fri. - Sat. 11am to 10pm
Weekend brunch coming soon.