Casual Lunch in Orange County

My favorite places to meet up with friends have the following qualities:

  • an unhurried atmosphere where the group can relax and converse
  • friendly staff
  • interesting decor to spark conversation
  • a menu with choices for various tastes, dietary preferences, or restrictions
  • reasonable prices that don’t stress out tablemates

El Restaurante Ixtapa in downtown Hillsborough ticks all the boxes. Sam and I met our friend there for lunch this weekend. I had dined there once before with a friend, and I also had enjoyed Ixtapa’s food at an off-site catered event. Both times the food was very fresh and flavorful.

On this Saturday, we arrived a few minutes before our friend, so we entered the restaurant to choose a table. (It was a beautiful day, but a little too breezy to dine at one of the outdoor tables facing the road.)

Since we had a few minutes to wait, I took a moment to ask one of the staff about the ingredients in some menu items. There are many gluten-free or vegetarian options. *Disclaimer: This blog post reflects my personal experience only. If you have dietary concerns, you should clarify with restaurants whether you can safely eat. 

The small, unassuming establishment was quiet at first, but the lunch crowd soon followed. Our friend also arrived, and our server promptly came over to ask for our order. She was friendly and patient when we said we wanted to wait a few minutes.  (Throughout the entire meal, she was attentive yet did not rush us at all.)

I was really craving guacamole and chips, so I had already inquired how the corn chips were prepared.  I was told that, while the chips themselves were gluten-free, the fryer could potentially be used to fry other items.  I personally have not had issues with corn chips at other Mexican restaurants, so I decided go ahead and try the chips. Note: I had no “gluten issues” with them at all.

The chips were good, although they were thicker/crunchier than my usual preference.  That said, I munched on quite a few of them!  The serving of guacamole was delicious…and very generous, for the price. The pico de gallo had fresh ingredients, including cilantro.

I intentionally did not crop out the tabletop in the above photo, to give you a sense of how casual the atmosphere is. You can see currency displayed under the glass.   Our food was served at a relaxed pace. We were in no hurry to eat, so that was fine with us.

When our entrees came, they looked great. I had three tacos with veggie filling.  (Since I started eating gluten-free, I opt for restaurant items with minimal preparation or sauces.) The vegetables in the taco were carrots and zucchini, which is unusual for veggie tacos. (The server did let me let me know these would be the vegetables, when I ordered.)  The corn tortillas, onions, cilantro, carrots, and zucchini were all fresh and tasty.  I think either some cheese or bell pepper would have completed the dish.  However, I added some of that wonderful guacamole appetizer to each taco…it made them scrumptious!  

Here are other items available on the menu. (There were also daily specials.)

I ordered the tacos from this page. Sam loved the sea bass tacos.

When I visited Ixtapa in May, I ordered the veggie quesadilla.  I subbed the corn tortilla for the flour tortilla, and I let the server know about my dietary restrictions.

My quesadilla had fresh veggies and was delicious.

gluten-free quesadilla
I enjoyed this quesadilla at Ixtapa in May 2017. My friend and I sat at one of the outside tables that day.

Below is the beverage and dessert menu. My friend did like his mango-flavored Jarritos. Sam had a beer and I had water. Dessert? Not today–we were full!As we headed  to our friend’s car for a scenic ride through Caswell County, Sam and I agreed that we would happily return to El Restaurante Ixtapa for future meal.