Riverfront Times

Padrino's Offers a Labor of Love in Former Mangia's Space

Cheryl Baehr Dec 20, 2021 6:16 AM
Margaritas and more are available behind the bar at Padrino's, a new Mexican restaurant on South Grand.

Christina Robles knows how ridiculously large the burritos are at Padrino's. Nearly the size of a standard loaf of ciabatta, these "burros," as Robles and her cohorts call them, are so jaw-droppingly massive, they seem as insurmountable as an ascent up Mt. Everest. It's not gratuitous, however; the burritos have to be so large to contain all of the fillings stuffed inside. Tender chicken, seasoned steak, plump shrimp, rice and refried beans — the contents of the Burro Campechano, are like a three-meat combination platter, with all the trimmings, wrapped up in a flour tortilla. As if that wasn't over the top enough, the entire burrito is covered in molten cheese dip that pools at the bottom of the plate, begging you to dip every bite into this rich concoction. If food is how restaurants show affection, a Padrino's burrito is a long, tight bear hug from a doting Mexican grandma.

Pollo feliz, grilled chicken breast topped with shrimp and cheese dip served on a bed of sautéed onions and bell peppers served with rice, refried beans and guacamole salad.

This is exactly what Robles hoped to achieve with Padrino's, the three-month-old restaurant she owns with her husband, Enrique, and their longtime friends Ciro Trapala and Rafa Rosas. Spanish for "godfather," the name Padrino's is supposed to evoke not simply a family relationship but the experience of being welcomed into a Mexican home kitchen, where stuffing you to the gills is the way you're shown love — the sort of experience Enrique Robles, Trapala and Rosas had growing up in their own households in Mexico.

Their desire to share that feeling with diners in their adopted hometown is the foundation of Padrino's, which opened on South Grand in a portion of the former Mangia Italiano this past September. After moving to the United States many years ago, all three men separately found themselves in the restaurant industry: Enrique Robles in the front of the house, and Trapala and Rosas in the kitchen. After settling down in the St. Louis area, the three became friends, and they often talked nostalgically of their Mexican upbringing and the food associated with it.

See all of RFT food critic Cheryl Baehr's restaurant reviews

Christina Robles saw this passion for food and hospitality in her husband and his friends because she had it, too. Having worked in the restaurant industry for many years herself, she'd always dreamed of getting back into the business and fantasized with her husband about opening a place of their own one day. In 2019, Enrique Robles realized that dream when he opened the Southampton restaurant La Catrina, with business partners Jerry Reyes and Steve Resnic. However, this May, he decided he wanted to step out on his own and, after partnering with Trapala and Rosas, he and Christina Robles set out on a new restaurant venture.

Ciro Trapala, Rafa Rosas, Enrique Robles and Christina Robles at Padrino's.

That dream moved even closer to reality once they found the former Mangia storefront. Thrilled to take over a portion of such a storied part of St. Louis restaurant history, the four got to work converting the space into a vibrant dining room. Mexican artwork hangs from the red and yellow walls, wooden tables dot the shotgun dining room, and a bar — complete with three frozen drink machines — takes up half of the space.

If the atmosphere makes the room feel lively, it turns positively festive once the food is added to the scene. Like the Burro Campechano, the Burro Vallarta is an equally massive culinary undertaking. Tender, whole jumbo shrimp, dusted with just a bit of chili spice, are wrapped into a fresh flour tortilla with refried beans and rice, then topped with a delectable sauce that's akin to a milder, thinner sour cream. Two people could easily split this feast, though giving up half to share might be more difficult than downing the entire delicious dish on one's own.

A chorizo quesadilla is pure, decadent joy. A generous portion of the Mexican ground sausage is stuffed with cheese between two flour tortillas, then griddled on a flattop until the meat and cheese form a gooey, chili-infused masterpiece. Though this is simple pleasure — fat, salt, carbs — the cinnamony spice of the chorizo seasoning adds depth that counters the richness. The chicken enchilada, too, balances the easy pleasure of juicy shredded chicken baked inside a tortilla with a verdant green-chile sauce that brightens the entire plate.

The chimichanga at Padrino's hits exactly the spot you want hit when looking for the sort of easy, fried meat-and-cheese glory that Tex-Mex so beautifully delivers. Mounds of mildly seasoned ground beef are wrapped in a flour tortilla, then deep fried so that the exterior forms a beautiful golden shell. Mild, white cheese dip covers the hefty fried spectacle, and guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo adorn the plate. It's pure Tex-Mex joy.

Fajitas Padrino's with steak, chicken, shrimp, chorizo, carnitas, queso fresco and chile toreado.

Padrino's excels in this sort of unapologetic comfort fare. An appetizer simply called Cheese and Meat needs no further introduction. Ground beef, mixed into velvety queso dip, evokes Super Bowl parties and Crockpot appetizers, while fajita nachos are like the classic bar fare with an exclamation point. Here, a platter of tortilla chips is positively smothered with seasoned ground chicken, bell peppers, onions and cheese dip, making it impossible to eat daintily. No matter; you'd be compelled to devour this decadence even in polite company.

However, Padrino's can also deliver on restrained, traditional dishes as well, such as its several varieties of street tacos. The al pastor and shrimp versions are particularly excellent; for the former, mouthwatering marinated grilled pork is paired with juicy pineapple, while the latter features plump, perfectly grilled shrimp drizzled with a warm chipotle sauce. The carnitas, too, show Trapala's and Rosas' culinary gifts. The succulent, slow-cooked meat drips in its own juices; white onions are simmered with the pork, infusing the jus with sweetness.

Pollo feliz, grilled chicken breast topped with shrimp and cheese dip served on a bed of sautéed onions and bell peppers served with rice, refried beans and guacamole salad.

That Padrino's can deliver on such simple preparations as the street tacos and carnitas shows that there is real substance behind the fun, over-the-top portions and easy fare that the restaurant is quickly becoming known for. Christina Robles emphasizes this, noting that, at the heart of every chimichanga, burro and cheese dip are the beloved dishes and cooking styles her husband, Trapala and Rosas learned from their families in Mexico and still cook to this day in their own home kitchens. To them, the over-the-top portions and cheese-covered dishes aren't a diversion from that, but rather embody its very essence, that when cooking for someone, the point is to show as much love as you can fit on a plate — and then pile on even more.

3143 South Grand Boulevard, 314-282-0357.
Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. 11-1 a.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Burro Campechano $11.99.
Tacos de Carnitas $10.99.
Quesadilla Especial $8.99.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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