He Said/She Said: Make a run for the border for this incredible, edible entrée

Mexican egg dishes are legendary cure-alls for what ails you and suitable for consumption any time of day as breakfast, lunch or dinner. Huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs) are perhaps the most common of such dishes on St. Louis menus and are most usually brunch fare.

Although regions and restaurants may dress them up or down a little differently, their essential components remain the same: fried eggs and a chile-heavy red salsa served with tortillas for wrapping or dipping in the yolk. Often complemented by rice and refried beans, huevos rancheros are an integral part of the most important meal of the day, whichever that is.

John’s profile: Texture is key, fresh warm tortillas, very casual atmosphere.
Patricia’s profile: Soft yolks, spicy salsa, good coffee.

Garduno’s Mexican Restaurant
2737 Cherokee St., St. Louis / 314.776.2315
Daily ? 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

J ? Since the demise of Taquería Azteca, Garduno’s has become an anchor in the redoubt of “authentic” Mexican dining on Cherokee Street. And on a weekend morning, it presents an oddly soothing buzz of activity.
P ? Though sometimes the blaring competition between Univision’s Rock en Español and animated conversations of fellow diners ? local hipsters, workers and families ? can overwhelm the hungover.

J ? But it’s the food that’s a constant comfort. On this visit, the table salsa ran hot, even hotter on request, and was obviously freshly made.
P ? Be sure to ask for the spicy version that isn’t automatically delivered to the table. Chips were average but made a good conveyance for the salsa. I also ordered the guacamole salad, for all of $1.60.
J ? Although we weren’t judging add-ons, at that price there was no excuse to deny ourselves.
P ? The guacamole, like the salsa, was fresh and full of cilantro, a staple of Garduno’s cuisine, and served on a bed of iceberg lettuce, making John happy as it added yet more texture.

J ? I used the two salsas to augment an understated ranchero sauce that, mixed with the yolks, formed a viscid gravy that contrasted nicely with the crisped edges of the eggs. The accompanying rice comprised a flavorful entity unto itself with a near-bitter, near-burnt taste peculiar to Garduno’s.
P ? The other essential side, refried beans, was pleasingly soupy, plainly seasoned (far preferable to the blunt chili powder too often favored by area restaurants) and mixed well with the yolks and sauce; midway through the meal, these discrete ingredients almost became one. Hard to beat for a mere $4.50.

2001 Park Ave., St. Louis /314.231.9200
Mon. to Thu. ? 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., Fri. and Sat. ? 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun. ? 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

P ? Because Arcelia’s has a certain air about it that these other restaurants lacked, I was curious to sample an upmarket spin on this classic entrée.
J ? Could be its Lafayette Square location, which is reflected in the interior as well. The décor calls attention to itself without being particularly fake or fussy (though I was seated less near than in a plant). Likewise were the chips and salsa comfortingly unpretentious.
P ? The chips and salsa kept us company while waiting, and we were offered a milder salsa to try ? one that lacked not only the heat but also much of flavor of the other. I’d pass on it next time.

J ? The huevos were unusual even at first viewing, with a sauce that looked already yolky. Taste and texture followed suit ? it was lightly, though distinctively, spiced, somewhat gelatinous in feel.
P ? I perked up at the unusual ranchero: Its smooth, soupy texture was broken only by a lone sliver of stewed poblano pepper. The accompanying warm flour tortillas made for tasty wrapping but only for the first egg, after which they gradually cooled and toughened up.
J ? “Gradually” might be generous; I think they arrived less than fresh.

P ? The rice and beans were fine, a word that seems to sum up our experience ? no horrors, no hosanas.

Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant
4030 Woodson, Woodson Terrace / 314.427.7177
Sun. to Thu. ? 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. ? 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

P ? This visit to Las Palmas on Woodson showed some changes. For one, the longtime lunch staple had been displaced from the menu to the specials board.
J ? But the décor remained as surreal-ly fiestive as ever. Faux-exposed brickwork, burro-and-child dreamscape murals and a strip-mall rustic rope-and-horns theme.

P ? Drawing our attention away from the miniskirt expo on Univision, the meal was delivered to our table with the admonition, “Careful, the plate is hot,” an expression which, while not sufficient to guarantee good Mexican food, is necessary.
J ? Las Palmas does the texture right: eggs that ranged concentrically from crust to yolk over crispy corn tortillas smothered in a chunky roasted ranchero sauce, much of which I scraped from the eggs to substitute the table salsa, consistently among the best in town.
P ? I ate what he left ? mmmm, ranchero.

P ? The oversized plate was filled with rice and refried beans, here a thick scoop with equal parts whole and mashed beans, lending a certain weight to the dish. The eggs also came with dollops of pico de gallo and sour cream ? not an atypical combination but gratuitous if everything else is done properly.
J ? Here I skipped the beans and doubled the rice, an inimitable cilantro-laced version larded with corn kernels, and, like not a few of Las Palmas’ dishes, on the substantial side. This is a lunch that can cut into an afternoon’s “productivity.”
P ? It’s $4.95, which, per pound, is quite a deal.
J ? Did you know they have a tequila here that comes in its own tiny coffin?

El Maguey
7014 Chippewa St., St. Louis / 314.832.3632
Mon. to Thu. ? 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. ? 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun. ? noon to 9 p.m.

P ? We mixed it up with this trip, going for dinner instead of lunch, the better to order beer as something other than hair-of-the-dog.
J ? I was truly, and pleasantly, surprised. St. Louis’ gringo go-to chain delivered much more than expected. Cool and dark, it was great for dinner but would be just the thing for a morning after.

P ? The eggs came over medium, with just the right amount of runniness, something the kitchen had failed to achieve on past visits and which was much appreciated this time. The chunky ranchero sauce was flavored with onions, jalapeños and cilantro, a satisfying combination for the flour tortilla to soak up, but not enough heat for me.
J ? Flour tortillas were delivered to the table wrapped in foil, taking me back to Texas in memory, which is the only way I would want to go. Although I was initially wary, their chewiness provided yet another layer of character.

J ? While rice and beans were placeholders on the plate, they gave no offense, which is sometimes all that one requires.
P ? In fact, they were quite perfect in that way, providing an accent without calling undo attention to themselves.

J ? It’s “Beat” Mexican, but there’s a reason why that is sometimes a term of endearment.
P ? This is food that hits the spot like only the best comfort food can.