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El Nopal

Didn’t get to take that vacation to Cancun for spring break this year? Never fear! You can still get a little slice of the Mexican Riviera right here in Cobb County. Sure, you won’t be wiggling your toes in white sand or taking a dip in the azure blue waters of the Gulf, but the authentic, flavorful cuisine and refreshing libations of Marietta’s El Nopal will tapatio all over your tastebuds and take you on a culinary journey sure to transport you south of the border.

Owner Diane Hammond (and her husband Greg) knows a thing or two about serving up fresh fare that consistently delights her customers. She’s been a mainstay in the restaurant since her parents purchased it when she was only 12 years old, so she’s spent a lifetime perfecting her craft.

Now, 23 years later, she’s taken over the family business. One thing that hasn’t changed with the ownership? The quality and genuine flair of the food.

“We’re true Mexican food,” Hammond said. “We make everything fresh. Nothing is out of a can or a bag, and nothing is frozen. We stay away from all that stuff, and we don’t pre-cook anything. It takes a little longer, but it’s worth it.”

From standard staples like tacos, enchiladas and tamales (made fresh daily), to a variety of house specialties, there’s nothing typical about the food at El Nopal. Instead, it’s an edible fiesta in a culinary landscape of pre-packaged restaurant meals— making it totally worth the wait!

Start off with shareable starters, including the perfectly blended queso, guacamole or salsa— all expertly seasoned with just the right amount of spice. Add one of Diana’s Specialty Margaritas (an all-natural and freshly squeezed version of a Mexican classic) or a Michelada (an El Nopal take on the brunch favorite Bloody Mary), and you’ve got yourself the start of a truly memorable meal.

Entrees, including the House Favorite Sabana, will leave you wanting to lick the plate. Slices of two tender skirt steaks grilled with onions and poblano peppers in green sauce and doused in cheese come accompanied by rice, beans, a savory cheese corn quesadilla and a side of guacamole. It’s enough food to split, but you won’t want to share.

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, the Choripollo, looks a bit like a supreme quesadilla at first glance, but is actually grilled chicken breast topped with chorizo and cheese sauce and served with rice, lettuce, tomato and avocado. Talk about a tasty surprise!

Looking for something on the lighter side? You’re in luck! Hammond invented an entree salad that fills you up in all the right ways. It’s called D’s Salad, and it proves you can, in fact, eat healthy at a Mexican joint. This bed of lettuce and spinach is topped with broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, avocado, onions and tomato and comes with your choice of chicken, beef, shrimp or, for the undecided amongst us, all three.

Be sure to save room for dessert. You won’t regret rounding out your meal with the caramel-filled Churros (little sticks of ooey-gooey fried goodness) or the Tres Leches cake, which is moist, light and a perfect end to a summertime dinner with family and friends.

Get on down to El Nopal today, and grab a spot on the covered patio or at the full bar and enjoy a vacation for your mouth. You’ll quickly forget you’re still in Marietta.

Find them at 611 Cobb Parkway in Marietta and check out their web site for weekly specials, including Margarita Mondays, live music nights, brunch and lunch buffets.

*Originally published in the August 2015 issue of Cobb Life magazine.