It’s inevitable that Louie’s Grill, the fairly new Tex-Mex/Cuban fusion bistro in Hilliard, gets compared to Starliner Diner – they share quite a few things – many menu items are identical, they’re both located on Cemetary Road, and Louie, the chef/owner, was Starliner Diner’s head chef for 12 years. But that’s where the similarities end. The truth of the matter is that Louie’s is bigger, cleaner, more flexible, and just executes the food much better with a smile instead of a snarl.
I’ve been a long-time patron of Starliner Diner; I can remember eating breakfasts there when we lived in Hilliard about a decade ago. And considering my past reviews of the place, I consider myself a fan. But over my past few visits, it just hasn’t been quite the same as before. The food quality has suffered a bit, and service has been dismal. And they nickel and dime you to death if you want to make any substitutions. So we haven’t been visiting as often as we used to.
Louie’s came up on my radar about a month or so ago, but I didn’t visit until this past week. And loved it so much, that collectively, my husband and I have been there 4 times this week and tried a bunch of dishes. This review will cover the last two visits – a Friday night dinner with him and me alone, and a Saturday afternoon brunch with a third dining companion.
Friday night was hoppin’. It was about half full when we got seated, but by the time we were done eating, it was almost fully packed. I started with a cocktail (which is out of character for me), on the recommendation of our server, Alicia. The fruity Fusion Punch was absolutely refreshing on the hot summer day, and definitely hit the spot.
Our appetizer, Fried Plantains with Salsa dip, was nicely ripe and sweet, and the crunchy caramelized exterior was wonderful. It was paired with a fresh tasting but not overly spicy creamy salsa dip.
My husband also opted for a cup (can you believe THAT is a cup? It was the size of a bowl elsewhere) of Cream of Jalapeno soup ($3). It was a study in moderation: thick but not too thick, spicy but not too spicy, and the balance of creaminess with flavor showed the skill of the chef.
For my entree, I opted for the Media Noche sandwich ($7) . It lacked the pickle that one usually finds on a Cuban sandwich, but it wasn’t missed. This was just a fantastic sandwich all around, and the almost appetizer-sized side of fried plantains that comes with it makes it a great value as well.
My husband was quite pleased with his Roast Pork with Green Salsa ($12), which paired tender chunks of pork shoulder with a pleasingly tart, mildly spicy tomatillo salsa verde and the nicely contrasting textures of veggies such as poblano peppers, zucchini and corn. The side of rice and black beans was the perfect companion to this dish, making it an extremely hearty choice.
On our visit the next day, I started with a small house salad ($3.50), which paired mostly romaine lettuce with tomatoes, red onion, cheese, and some more of that nice creamy salsa dressing.
Our dining companion chose the Machaca with Eggs ($9), which was a scramble of tender chunks of brisket (ropa vieja) with eggs, ranchero sauce, onions, peppers, and fresh cheese. Normally it is served with black beans and corn tortillas, but my favorite way of eating it is with a combination of half rice and half beans (a substitution they are more than happy to make). He enjoyed it so much that he said he would have licked the plate clean had he thought he could get away with it. As it stood, he sopped up every last bit using the accompanying tortillas.
My husband’s Mexican Breakfast Burrito ($8) was a behemoth of a wrap, filled to the brim with scrambled eggs, onions, peppers, corn, chorizo, refried beans, chipotle sauce and cheese. The mingling of all of the individual flavors on the palate was a thing of beauty – again, it stuck a nice balance without being overwhelmingly spicy or too busy. Just well executed all around. The potatoes on the side were competently done and nicely browned.
Everyone envied my choice, which our waitress Amanda said was one of their most popular dishes. The Mofongo Stuffed Chicken Breast ($11), pairs a nicely pounded chicken breast stuffed with a garlicy ripe plaintain mixture, and then coated in cornmeal and then deep fried and topped with a red jalapeno and a green onion sauce. The chicken was flavorful and tender, despite being deep fried, and the sauces were just the icing on an already delicious cake. The side of rice and black beans that comes with it makes it quite hearty and filling indeed. I can already predict that this will probably be my regular choice in the future. Even though it is an off-menu special, it is one they usually have.
A couple of things I wanted to mention: being a family owned, independent restaurant gives them the flexibility to be able to be a little more accommodating than most restaurants: if they are not busy, they are more than happy to whip you up a breakfast item hours after they’re done serving breakfast. They seem to go out of their way to make what you want, and both the waitresses and the other staff that I’ve met this past week have been an absolute pleasure to deal with. The service here is sincere, friendly, and welcoming. That alone will bring me back again and again.
Another thing – their hours also make them an excellent choice – not only are they open 7 days a week (Monday-Saturday 8am-10pm, Sunday 8am-8pm), but I’ve been able to get the full menu during posted breakfast hours on the weekend. Again, loving the flexibility.
Louie’s is definitely a new favorite for me – Hilliard is a bit out of my way, but I can easily see this being a once a week (if not more) stop for us. Most of their menu travels extremely well, I’ve found out.
If you’d like to go: Louie’s Grill, 4453 Cemetary Road, Hilliard, OH 43026, 614.777.5606.