The overhead sign and receipt still read M/O, but the sights, smells and sounds emanating these days from the corner cafe in Voorhees' Ritz Plaza are all San Miguel Mexican.
The two restaurants, now owned by chef Michael O'Mara of Pine Hill, are swapping places. San Miguel, formerly in Washington Township, settled into its new home near the movie theater on Haddonfield-Berlin Road last month. A revamped M/O Grill will open at 373 Egg Harbor Rd. in Sewell in mid-June.
Why the switch? M/O's global menu, which on any day could include French, Japanese, fish or Northern Italian dishes, tended to overlap with the diverse offering along the Ritz Plaza strip, O'Mara said last week. Diners can choose from Coriander's Indian, Ritz Seafood, Chez Elena Wu's Asian and Sal-Vito Pizza.
With San Miguel, "we're much more defining in our own plaza," O'Mara said.
Also, up to 70 percent of customers are eating before a movie, O'Mara said, so he wanted to offer fun, quick dishes. Folks will come in for a margarita and mole, "but they're not going to wait 35 minutes for rack of lamb," he said.
That's not to say San Miguel's menu lacks creativity. We started with the delicious lobster crab nachos ($12.99), topped with roasted sesame seeds and gouda, served with a side of tomato-onion salsa and guacamole.
I was tempted by equally unusual entrees: tequila lime sunfish ($19.99), Modelo beer-braised short ribs ($22.99), or even the San Miguel Kobe burger ($15.99).
I finally settled on the heart-healthy but filling tampiqueña ($17.99), a thinly sliced filet of chicken seasoned with lime and served with (tasty, but less healthy) mini cheese enchiladas, refried beans and rice.
Lava rocks bubbling on tables around the dining room fascinated us, prompting my dining partner to try the steak molcajetes ($17.99). Indeed, the spicy stew of onions, peppers and beef remained piping hot all through the meal. O'Mara said the rocks, imported from Mexico, reach 800 to 900 degrees. The dish is served with white corn tortillas, make-your-own style.
The restaurant also uses lava rocks as serving dishes for guacamole or as mortar and pestles. Useful bits of stone!
My dining partner loves tamales, so we plan to go back to try the restaurant's $13.99 traditional Mexican fare, served Sunday through Wednesday. It features tostadas, tamales, burritos, enchiladas, and huarache.
A complete makeover of two restaurants is no small undertaking. For San Miguel, O'Mara imported two tractor-trailers of decorations from Mexico, including hand-carved yellow and royal blue chairs sporting suns and sunflowers. Intricate designs on hand-made (lead-free) pottery make beautiful place settings, accented by bright wall colors.
San Miguel is a festive new option to complement a night at the movies.
910 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd. (Route 561), Voorhees.
: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; dinner 3-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 3-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
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