1002 Johnson St, tel: 250-590-3370 11-9 every day

A relatively new comer on the Mexican dining scene, Orale has some less than conventional menu items that are a pleasant change from your standard fare. Billed as classic and traditional, typical dishes from Mexico, the selection and execution reminds me much more of Mexican food served in San Francisco than in Mexico (our even Southern California). Not really a criticism, considering simple availability of produce is going to impact an 'authentic' product. Similarly, from a business perspective, this slightly northern style is probably a good bet around here.
The restaurant ambiance could use some work. For the amount of money Orale is spending on advertising I think they could have funnelled some of it into some new flooring and the destruction of the hideous chairs. Some simple design features to offset the hollowness of the large floor plan would be nice too, but beggars can't be choosers.
They have an above average selection of Mexican pantry items. While most of it looks like overstocked kitchen inventory, the chili selection is one of the better available in town. The prices are very reasonable.
Patty and I split the tacos al pastor and the tostadas with cochinita with a side of rice and beans. The presentation makes the dishes a little hard for sharing, but we managed. I was delighted with a selection of hot sauces, but again I couldn't use much with the non-sharing plating. The tacos were decent, but the pork was a bit dry, albeit well seasoned. The pineapple however, wasn't observably grilled, as described. The tortillas were tender. The tostadas were a lot more impressive, with crispy tortillas and nice fresh toppings. That said, they have nothing on the cochinita at Hernandez, but I was delighted to see it on the menu and it was perfectly tasty. The rice and beans were basic, but spot on my taste. The prices, like the dry goods, were very reasonable.
The most unusual menu item are the tamales. Not usually a restaurant item, especially in these parts. Corn dumplings steamed in corn husks, tamales don't really work for me unless I've just gotten off a bus at some ridiculous hour, in a random Mexican town. Then they're perfect. Our Mexican friend and tamale lover, Luis, tried the tamales and wasn't terribly impressed; but we won't let him be the definitive voice on the tamale issue, since I don't think anything but his mother's and maybe his auntie's tamales would satisfy his highly discerning tamale palate.
The staff were pleasant, but they seemed underworked and a little bored. They have an unfortunate service lay out, that demands a lot of people to maintain a basic level of efficiency; that's an issue that lurks in labour cost, not in customer experience.
Orale has a fun menu and is good value. The ambiance needs some work, but I'm open to supporting the process.

July 2009