Santa Ana, once a typical country town southwest of San José, has been invaded by development, and the choice of restaurants has become excessive. Among the mélange of fast-food chains and chic, expensive establishments, Old West Grill, just west of the town center, has definitely defined itself by offering good, satisfying chow at reasonable prices.
This eatery is an unpretentious, no-frills grill and bar, or rather saloon, in keeping with its Wild West decor. Murals of desert landscapes, imitation red brick walls and a couple of saddles hanging in the bar add authentic touches to the western motif.
“I expected a shoot-out any moment between John Wayne and Gary Cooper, but the saloon door is missing,” remarked one of my lunch companions.
Another member of the party spotted an alcoholmeter; no Wild West bar ever had one of those, but we were all very impressed. You purchase a straw for ¢300 and blow. If you are under the limit, you can drive home safely; if over the limit, call a cab!
The bar in front is a popular expat hangout, but its close proximity to the road did not appeal to us, so we sat at one of the picnic-style tables in the dining area.
Fine linens, long-stemmed wine glasses and overly decorated fusion cuisine are not part of the scene here. The noise level from the large-screen televisions is decibels louder than those with sensitive eardrums or those wanting to partake in intimate conversation might wish. If you go on a night when there’s a big game on, unless you want to watch it, communication by yelling would certainly be a necessity.
The menu offers soups, salads, sandwiches and a large selection of bocas ideal for eating perched on a bar stool. The hearty main courses include a substantial choice of house specialties from the grill, plus chicken and fish.
None of our party ordered the Philly steak sandwich, BLT or club, though they sounded tempting, and we also passed on the salads and black bean, chicken and tortilla soups. Prices for the above, including tax, ranged from ¢2,400 to ¢4,271 ($4.50 to $8).
Where’s the beef? There’s a lot of it. The selection of grilled steaks (¢5,491 to ¢12,240/$10 to $23) includes imported U.S. Angus rib eye and New York sirloin at the top of the price range. Other traditional meaty offerings we did not sample were different cuts of pork, barbecue spare ribs and a mixed grill for two.
The grilled beef medallions (¢4,057/$7.60) ordered by one of our party were tender and tasty, the Wild West burgers were a definite hit, and the Gran Texan ¢4,463 ($8.40) was enthusiastically received. Large, juicy and served with bacon, cheese, all the trimmings and French fries, it was unanimously deemed a whopper. The homemade fries can be classed as some of the best in town; addicts should visit Old West even if only for a portion of these and a frosty beer.
Not into meat? There are also chicken and fish to choose from. The grilled corvine was sampled on two different occasions and was excellent, and the good-size shrimp antaño was also a nice choice, as was the tuna, though slightly overcooked for some tastes. Prices range from ¢4,008 to ¢4,820 ($7.60 to $9.10). All main courses are appetizingly presented and come with a fresh, colorful salad and a choice of fries ormashed potatoes – the homemade, slightly lumpy kind.
Having been extremely happy on a previous visit with an order from the bocas menu of fish and chips, which proved to be an ample main meal for my small appetite, I decided to try this menu again and ordered the chicken fajitas (¢3,356/$6.30). It was a substantial, tasty portion, but tepid and slightly on the greasy side.
Both the lemon meringue and banana cream pies (¢2,260/$4.30) made a pleasant sweet finale to a satisfying, good-value-for-money meal.
Our young waitress, who was new on the job, was slightly overwhelmed by us, but pleasant and quick to respond to our requests for extra onions for the burgers, more water and beer, which always arrived nice and cold. I’ve heard reports that sometimes the service is not good, but I never found it to be so on my two visits.
Owner Elkin Flores, who was the chef at the Rock & Roll Pollo in Santa Ana for four years, supervises the goings-on in the kitchen but is more involved in management than cooking. He must be commended for filling a customer need to satisfy hunger and thirst without spending a lot of money. Old West also serves hearty breakfasts and has developed a devoted clientele both day and night.
Old West Grill
Location: 100 m east of the Red Cross, Santa Ana
Hours: 10 a.m. to midnight, Monday to Thursday and Sunday; open until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays