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The Food Guy: New Mexican in Cross Lanes, better options in Barboursville

You know how we already have a Mexican Shoney’s? That’s what the locals affectionately call Los Agaves in South Charleston, thanks to its location in a building that still looks a lot like the place where Big Boy once hung out?

Now we have a Mexican Pizza Hut, too!

A new Mexican restaurant recently opened just off the Cross Lanes exit of I-64, and there’s no mistaking what restaurant used to dish out food in its location — signature metal “hut” roof and all, although it’s now been painted black.

Inside Los Primos, the same Pizza Hut layout remains, but they’ve done a nice job of making it look like one located just south of the border. I had no idea this place existed until a reader sent me a tip. Online reviews were complimentary, so I was excited to check it out.

But as good as the service was — and as ridiculously nice as the staff was — the food was merely OK, at least on my visits. The good news is, there were common, known faults with each dish, which are easy enough problems to solve.

The menu is exactly what you’d expect (read: just like most other Mexican joints around town) so I bypassed the ubiquitous queso and guacamole in favor of something a little different.

The restaurant’s Mario Dip was a pleasing combination of queso with crumbled ground beef and fresh pico de gallo mixed in, but a slick of grease floating on top from the beef in it made for a less-than-appetizing presentation. (The fix? Drain the beef.) It was also difficult to eat because it was so unbelievably salty. (The fix? Lay off the salt.)

For dinner, I opted for the Primos Special, which would allow me to sample several different menu items at once — a chalupa, chile relleno, enchilada, taco, burrito, rice and beans. In short, all the things!

Unfortunately, every item on the plate (except for the rice and beans) was stuffed, topped or accompanied by the same way-too-salty ground beef that was in my appetizer. Had some featured steak, chicken, pork or seafood instead, I think my dinner would’ve been much better. Or had I ordered something different, I could’ve had a completely different experience. But as it were, I could barely manage a bite of each. (The fix? Hide the salt from the chef.)

Always determined to give new restaurants multiple chances, I went back two more times after that but only fared marginally better. I skipped the ground beef in place of steak and chicken entrées, which were not quite AS salty, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I also tried a few different margaritas over the course of those visits: the Classic, the Texas and the Top Shelf. They all tasted thin, flat and watery, but on two occasions I watched as one waitress was training another how to make my drink. (The fix? Don’t experiment on customers and maybe train staff before you open.)

But again, my servers were wonderful and the manager on duty was super professional and attentive. A guy at the table behind me tried to order a beer they didn’t have, and the manager promised to have it in stock the next time he came back.

That’s how you do it, so I REALLY want to see these folks succeed — especially since construction of a new building next door partially obstructs your view of the place from the main road. Opening a new restaurant is difficult even under perfect circumstances, so any barrier like that can cause problems. (FYI: The restaurant is diagonally across from City National Bank on Goff Mountain Road.)

Will I go back? Sure. But I pray they get that salt issue under control first.

IF YOU GO: Los Primos, located at 200 Goff Mountain Rd. in Cross Lanes, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 304-776-7839 or visit www.facebook.com/lospri mosmexican.

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Interesting enough, the very next day after my first visit to Los Primos, I found myself at a family celebration at another Mexican restaurant in Barboursville. This one, however, over-delivered in every way.

Tequila Grill delivered delicious food, ginormous portions and top-notch margaritas. I especially liked the prevalence of fresh grilled options — steak, chicken, seafood, even veggies you don’t usually see in a Mexican restaurant like carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.

Among our group of 12, there was not a dissatisfied diner in the bunch. The service was great and the atmosphere was good, too, considering we were in a strip mall next to Big Lots.

And the margaritas? So muy bueno.

IF YOU GO: Tequila Grill, located at 5636 US 60 in Barboursville, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 304-948-6499 or visit www.te quilagrillwv.com.

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A few weeks later, my 14-year-old and I also stopped in Barboursville’s Tortilla Factory to celebrate a big lacrosse win at a tournament in Huntington. We’d been here before — but it had been quite a while — so it was nice re-discovering the place again.

Located in a small strip mall across the interstate from Huntington Mall, the restaurant is beloved by friends and family who live closer to it.

Made tableside, the traditional guacamole is popular, as is a version that mixes in pineapple and bacon. There are also specialty tacos, torte sandwiches and all of the usual south-of-the-border suspects on the menu.

Isaac enjoyed a carne asada steak and I loved my molcajetes, the restaurant’s signature dinner bowls served in a volcanic stone pot with salsa verde, cactus, sautéed onions and tomatoes, scallions and a wedge of fresh queso fresco, along with rice and beans. I opted for the Azteca bowl (featuring steak, chicken and shrimp) but another version included housemade chorizo, scallops, pork carnitas, fried eggs and more.

Although the beef wasn’t incredibly tender in either of our dishes, my chicken and shrimp were flawless and everything else we tried was delicious as well.

So if you find yourself down Barboursville way and love good, basic, Mexican food, I’d definitely recommend a stop at either place above.

IF YOU GO: Tortilla Factory, located at 3419 US 60 in Barboursville, is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday and closed Monday. For more information, call 304-948-7518 or visit www.tortillafactorywv.com.

Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or by e-mail at wvfoodguy@aol.com. You can also follow him on Facebook as “WV Food Guy” and on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WVFoodGuy”.

Funerals for Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Berdine, Robert - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Bonsall, Buddy - 11 a.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Holstein, Gary - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Keener, John - 8 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Miller, Edward - 1 p.m., Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Wright, Virginia - 11 a.m., Nitro Church of God, Nitro.