A friend recommended Las Olas Taqueria, and I had meant to make the drive over to Wells for several weeks. The first day of spring, chilly though it was, provided the motivation to indulge in food that makes you feel alive and want to strip down to shorts, T-shirts and sandals.
This relatively new restaurant on Route 1 in the Wells Corner Shopping Plaza is all about warmth and feel-good vibes. In Spanish, “las olas” means “the waves.” With paintings of waves by artist Anthony Curro hanging on aqua blue walls – and with the ocean almost within earshot – Las Olas mixes the allure of water much warmer than the Atlantic in March with the delight of fresh ingredients that scream for summer.
My first experience in the Wells restaurant was positive. I arrived midday between appointments with an hour to kill, a charged cell phone and several games of Words With Friends to catch up on. First impressions matter, and mine was made more positive the music that was playing. When I sat down, I heard songs by Bob Marley and Taj Mahal, back to back. That set a happy tone.
My breakfast consisted of half a grapefruit, and that was hours ago. I was hungry, which justified my ordering both a taco and a burrito. My motivation wasn’t only gluttony. I wanted to sample a couple of things.
At Las Olas, a team of servers prepares your food in plain site behind the counter as you place your order. The dining room is large and open, with sturdy tables and chairs and a concrete floor.
I chose a table near the window, which unfortunately faces into the shopping center. I asked for my steak taco ($3.60) in a hardshell and topped it with cheese, lettuce, cilantro and lime. The steak was well done and crispy, which I liked very much but wondered if some folks might find a little too well done. I appreciated how its texture completed the hardshell, which was flaky and not greasy. The sour cream was chilled, and offered a nice complement to the lettuce. I liked the spicy, earthy hints of the taco and immediately regretted not ordering two.
The chicken burrito ($7.19) was equally appealing though daunting in its size. I’ve heard of burritos as big as your head, and this was all of that. When I lifted it up to unroll it from its tinfoil, I noted its heft.
I asked for refried beans, rice, lettuce and pico de gallo. Unlike the steak, which came in small chunks, the chicken was diced into larger pieces, and was tender, juicy and tasty. I didn’t recognize its seasonings, but put them in a category of spices that enliven taste buds. The burrito was excellent. I surprised even myself by eating every bite.
Las Olas is casual. Both the utensils and serving baskets are plastic, and by all appearances diners are expected to clear their own tables, which is fine. I didn’t see any signs requesting that I do so, but the bins, barrels and buckets near the doors suggested repository for food baskets, trash and returnables.
My only frustration came when I walked to the counter to place my order. I am a little hard of hearing, and had to ask the server to repeat each question. The restaurant wasn’t loud, but its openness makes sound disappear to deaf guys like me. I might also suggest that servers lift their heads and look customers in the eye and not down at the food table when taking an order.
Las Olas has been open less than a year. It is one of three restaurants in a small chain. The others are in Exeter and Hampton, New Hampshire. It prides itself on serving healthy food and locally-raised meats.
That effort shows in the quality of food. Even as winter held on to its final grip, Las Olas offered the hope of summer.
1517 Post Road (Route 1), Wells; 207-216-9711; lasolastaqueria.com
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.