We had a table for four. Durango is a nice combination of casual and upscale, with just a touch of Hispanic flavor. The decor is light and somewhat austere - blond wood floors, white tablecloths under glass, black chairs, pale lemon- and lime-colored walls punctuated with the occasional fancy-stitched sombrero or art print. South-of-the-border music is quiet in the background.
Durango's menu is heavy with seafood - salmon relleno (a filet stuffed with vegetables), a tilapia filet served with grilled shrimp, marisco saltado (seafood sauted with onions and jalapeos) and camarones diablo (spicy Mexican-style shrimp).
But there's also plenty of beef and chicken on the menu, such as the Yucatn-style ribs, chicken and beef fajitas, pollo asado (Spanish-style chicken) and bistec Catalan.
The fish-eating vegetarians in the Savory Sam clan had plenty of choice. The strict vegetarian was less pleased. In fact, the menu reminded him of Tex-Mex restaurants in which the burritos, tacos, enchiladas and chimichangas all rely on the same limited palate of fillings.
Our waitress was prompt, friendly and frank. We liked her straight talk. In general, the wait staff worked well together and treated customers warmly.
We sat down and received a bowl of homemade chips - thin, light and crispy - paired with a homemade, roasted-tomato salsa that commanded our attention.
We followed that with an appetizer called ceviche mixto. Ceviche is essentially the New World version of sushi - bits of raw fish marinated in citrus juice that "cooks" the seafood and alters the texture. Different regions of Central and South America have their regional version of ceviche.
Durango's ceviche features shrimp, calamari rings, bits of tilapia and tiny squid mixed with ginger, cilantro and a wall of lime. The seafood had a meaty texture, not raw-tasting at all, and a delightful refreshing taste, though one of the Sams compared the lime flavor to being hit by a brick wall. "If you don't like lime, this is not for you," she said.
For our main course, we ordered the vegetable burrito, a vegetable chimichanga, the paella Valenciana and a bowl of seafood soup.
Our entrees arrived without delay. The soup was good - plenty of seafood served in a clam-based, hearty broth.
The strict vegetarian commented that the burrito and chimichanga plates - both served with yellow rice, sauted vegetables, refried black beans and lumps of sour cream and guacamole - looked virtually identical. They did; I guess that's hard to avoid in certain portions of the Tex-Mex food spectrum.
The vegetarian burrito was stuffed with sauted broccoli, mushrooms and other vegetables. It was good, though not outstandingly flavorful, and could have been hotter when brought to the table.
The paella was a treat.
Paella (pronounced "pie-AY-yah") is a Spanish dish with saffron-flavored rice mixed with meats and vegetables. Traditionally, paella was a Sunday dish made from leftovers by husbands who gave their wives a break from kitchen duties. The dish now enjoys international status as a classic Spanish dish.
Durango's paella is made in a small, covered pot, not the traditional Spanish frying pan. Our waitress brought it to the table; inside was a bed of light, steaming saffron-yellow rice with seafood, chicken chunks and sausage slices. The rice was light, and the meat was good. There was no broth, which some paellas have; this disappointed my dearest companion. There also was no socarrat - caramelized, toasty bits stuck to the bottom of a paella pan considered a treat by some paella fans. Still, Durango's version had plenty of flavor and plenty of interest.
We washed down our meal with water, brought by a water server who kept an eye on our glasses. We also ordered a Modela Special - Durango offers several bottled beers from Mexico and Central America - and a margarita with a nice balance of sweet and tart.
We finished the meal with tres leches cake, a Central American specialty. "Tres leches" is Spanish for "three milks," and this dessert is a cake soaked in three kinds of milk. It did not go over big with all members of the Sams. The cake is light, sweet and thoroughly soaked in milk - to my liking but not to that of others.
And that could have described our dinner at Durango - an adventure at the dinner table, with some parts that we liked and some we didn't. But the food was well-prepared, the service attentive and the setting relaxing.
The restaurant's Tex-Mex cuisine is as good as any in the area; the Spanish-style food is exotic, flavorful and worth trying. And at $80 for four of us, it's a decent value for a culinary adventure.
Savory Sam is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail staff member who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.
4 stars out of 5
Food: 4 stars
Value: 3 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambience: 3 stars
Address: 12 E. Washington St., Hagerstown
Hours: Durango Restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Style: Tex-Mex and Spanish