There are a few restaurants in Cleveland so respected for their food that they have survived the test of time and a tough economy. They have attained landmark status.
Villa y Zapata is one of those restaurants. Over the course of nearly four decades, this family-run restaurant at West 85th Street and Madison Avenue has become so well-known for its authentic Mexican fare that, for years, it did not even have a sign. But Villa y Zapata is easily recognizable by its red-, white- and green-striped exterior, resembling the Mexican flag.
The interior of the restaurant has not changed much over the years, either. There is a tiny bar, serving Mexican beers and signature margaritas. There are two separate dining areas, with newly covered tables, able to accommodate parties from two to 20 people. Baskets of warm corn chips and tangy salsa are delivered to your table along with menus.
The guacamole dip is very fresh. Other appetizers include flamiado, a chorizo sausage, melted cheese and jalapeno casserole served with tortillas ($6.50), half-moon empanadas filled with chicken, ground beef or cheese ($6) and taquitos rolled around a filling of beef or chicken, topped with cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole ($4.25). Quesadillas ($6) are also available in a kid-size portion. Salads include a simple house green salad ($2), as well as cactus salad with radishes, tomato and cilantro ($6.25), shrimp salad ($6.75) and taco salad ($6.25).
The chile relleno dinner ($12.95), with two cheese-stuffed poblano peppers in tomato-based sauce with rice and beans, is probably generous enough to serve two people. Other favorites are camarones a la Mexican, or shrimp sauteed with tomato, onions, peas, potatoes and carrots in red sauce ($13), carne con chile made with chunks of beef in spicy sauce ($12.95) and sizzling chicken, steak ($11.95) or shrimp ($12.95) fajitas. Chuletas de puerco is pork chops marinated in pineapple juice, white wine and red sauce ($12.95). Pollo en salsa de tequila is chicken in tequila with sour cream, green and jalapeno peppers, onion and tomato ($12.95). Chicken in mole poblano is smothered in a dark, rich mole sauce ($12.95). The mole sauce is also available with enchiladas.
Combination dinners include your choice of two ($10.50) or three ($13.95) entree choices, with rice and beans. Selections include ground beef, shredded beef, chicken, bean or vegetable burritos; enchiladas with a choice of filling and red, green or mole sauce; tostadas; and tacos Americanos or dorados. The latter is wrapped in a delicate corn shell, which is then fried in oil.
Desserts are very good flan, fried sopaipillas or fried ice cream.
Luncheon guests with limited dining time can call or fax in an order and it will be ready when they arrive. Carryout is available. Major credit cards are honored. Reservations are required for the private dining room seating up to 35 people. Parking is in a small fenced lot behind the restaurant, or on the street. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Phone Villa y Zapata Mexican Restaurant, 8505 Madison Ave., at 216-961-4369 or fax 216-961-0574.