If it were just the eye-popping presentations, the dining experience at El Sarape would be merely a visual feast. Thankfully, the stunning plating at one of Blue Bell’s oldest restaurants, now in its 10th year, is just part of the successful theater of dining offered by Luis Marin and his sturdy staff.

At El Sarape, taste and service take no back seat to appearance. General Manager Leticia Soto-Gil, a nine-year veteran of the staff, says, “We love providing a Mexican flair and ambience to the neighborhood. It’s homey and good. The community knows we care and they have been great in return.”

In fact, Marin says, “Many customers call El Sarape home. They bring their kids when they’re 10 years old and then when the kids are in college, they bring their boyfriends or girlfriends.

“We do so many community events — from Chefs of the Burbs and PAL events to donations to churches, schools and other charities.”

In discussing the menu, Marin and his G.M. practically complete each other’s sentences.

Soto-Gil says, “Our guests really appreciate the authenticity of the food — from Mexico and Central America.”

“We haven’t fallen into Tex-Mex cuisine,” adds Marin, “and we have the only tequila bar in the area, offering the No. 1 Margarita in the area,” he says with a smile.

“And they really enjoy our special promotions every week,” continues Soto-Gil, “including $2 off any Margarita Tuesday through Thursday from 5:00 to 6:30, special discounts on Wednesday [Ladies Night, with $2 off Margaritas] and Thursday [Guys Night Out — $1 off beer and free tequila tasting] — plus birthday discounts,” in which you show your ID and receive an age-based percentage off your entrée.

But it all comes back to the kitchen, where longtime Executive Chef Rogelio Flores, a native of Acapulco who’s been with the restaurant since day one, holds court, serving up some of the best Mexican dishes you’ll taste north of the border.

Among the most popular botanas (appetizers) on the menu are Guacamole Real ($9); Rollos Costeños ($10), lightly breaded flour tortilla stuffed with Chihuahua cheese, braised poblano peppers and baby shrimp, served with cucumber-chipotle sauce; Ella Ahi Tuna Nachos ($12), seared ahi tuna in corn tortilla and cascabel pepper crust, served with aioli dressing, slice of avocado and jalapeño sauce; and Queso Fundido ($10), melted Chihuahua cheese served with your choice of flour or corn tortillas and your choice of chorizo, champiñones (sautéed seasoned mushrooms), pepper strips or plain.

The authentic platillos fuertes (entrées) might be even better than the delectable starters. Among the most popular are Pollo Criollo ($22), grilled chicken breast atop tomatillo sauce, filled with queso fresco and a mix of chorizo and black beans, topped with Chihuahua cheese and served with white rice and salad; Salmon Vallarta ($24), grilled salmon infused in an orange-jalapeño sauce, served with vegetables and white rice; Pescado Ixtapa ($26), grouper filet filled with shrimp, lump crab meat and spinach, wrapped in bacon and drizzled with chipotle sauce, served with white rice and a spring garden salad; and Camarones Culiacan ($25), large jumbo shrimp butterflied and stuffed with lump crab meat, wrapped in bacon, sautéed in a special creamy reposado-chipotle sauce and baby shrimp.

Perhaps even more impressive are Filete Toluca ($26), arguably Mexico’s most famous dish, center cut filet mignon, topped with chorizo covered with a light Chihuahua cheese on a corn tortilla base and topped with chipotle-sausage sauce, served with colorful flag rice and refried beans; and the aptly named El Emperador, a whole red snapper lightly fried, sautéed in garlic tequila sauce and topped with scallops, calamari, octopus and shrimp.

Desserts include the likes of Churro (a deep-fried cinnamon-and-sugar donut), Tres Leches (a three-milk sponge cake soaked with evaporated milk and Kahlua) and Flan (a sweet custard).

El Sarape’s regular tequila tastings and tequila dinners have also become popular events at the restaurant.

Guests can enjoy their meal in an understated décor highlighted by a gorgeous mural depicting a bucolic scene from the Mexican state of Guanajuato and a tasteful map of Mexico.

The tequila bar, manned by bartender Marco Antonio Lopez, is a lively place indeed. And when the weather is kind, up to 14 guests can have their meals out on the patio.

El Sarape is doing so well these days, according to Marin, that expansion is coming within the next year or so. A larger lounge is anticipated in the space now occupied by the present dining room, and the new section (where a bank now stands) will become the new dining room.

Marin and his family, all from Mexico City, must have the Midas touch when it comes to opening eateries. Their flagship restaurant, Los Sarapes in Chalfont, will soon be celebrating its 20th year in business. Los Sarapes, in Horsham, serving fine Mexican cuisine (and offering a Margarita Tequila Bar), is now six years strong.

And Xilantro, a sleek new Mexican restaurant in Wayne, is off to a rousing start in its first few months. Marin’s parents ran the Chalfont outlet until recently; it’s still in the family. His brother runs the Horsham restaurant.

And now that he spends most of his time at Xilantro, Marin says he is totally confident that his team of G.M. Soto-Gil, Executive Chef Flores and genial floor manager Mauricio Muñoz, a native of Colombia with the restaurant for six years, will continue running El Sarape “like the family members they’ve become.”

With such a team and track record, it’s likely that the popular Mexican restaurant in Blue Bell will still be going strong for another 10 years or more.

El Sarape

1380 Skippack Pike

Blue Bell, PA 19422

Phones: 610-239-9466

or 610-239-8667

Fax: 610-239-9489

www.elsarapebluebell.com

HOURS: Lunch:

Monday – Saturday,

11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Dinner:

Tuesday – Thursday

& Sunday, 5 – 9 p.m.;

Friday & Saturday,

5 – 10 p.m.

Reservations required

for 5 or more; call ahead.

All major credit cards.

Facilities for handicapped.

Catering on & off premises.

Dinner entrées: $18 - $26.

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