Diablo’s Southwest Grill has enjoyed a rapid growth, from a single location off Wheeler Road near Doctor’s Hospital to the imminent opening of its third location since 2013.
Also found in Aiken, Diablo’s is days away from opening on Walton Way next to Johnson’s Motor Company — a spot that will be hugely convenient for the folks who work/stay at the hospitals and the new courthouse and government buildings. Not to mention the rest of us who frequently head downtown.
Diablo’s Southwestern style arrived in West Augusta thanks to Carl Wallace and two brothers, Brandon and Brad Wall. The concept draws on the simple delivery line style found in cafeterias and places like Moe’s — probably Diablo’s closest competitor — with an emphasis on truly fresh ingredients. Fitting snugly between the irresistible gut-wrenching mysteries of Taco Bell and the authentic deliciousness delivered by Taqueria el Patron, Diablo’s features fresh Tex-Mex style food but with a much simpler menu.
Estimating — incorrectly — that the lunch rush would be over, I arrived at the Wheeler Road restaurant just after 1 p.m. on a Friday. The line was long and almost every single seat was full. Even the handful of tables outside and the row of stools lining the dining bar along the wall and window were mostly occupied. But, I was hungry, the smell was fantastic, the line seem to be moving quickly and a few people were finishing up their meals, so I decided to go ahead with my lunch plans. The plans mostly entailed stuffing my face with a cheesy, chicken, pico de gallo something and that’s definitely on Diablo’s menu.
The restaurant is quite large, which is surprising because, from the outside, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be that big, but high ceilings, ample seating and large front windows create an illusion of a massive dining area. No matter — it’s an efficient use of space, and that’s a commonality throughout everything Diablo’s does. Everything is thoroughly planned out to the last square inch; from the neatly organized booths, tables and stools to the way in which the food line operates, everything makes sense and nothing is wasted.
Diablo’s artwork is decidedly Southwestern and the décor features exposed ducts, beaten copper-topped tables, and lots of wood and leather. The wood is even on the walls — according to the website, reclaimed wood planks from an old mill were used to create the large backdrop to the Diablo’s logo. It’s a casual place, so don’t feel the pressure to dress up too much. And its quirks fit right in, such as the “best seat in the house” which is actually a leather saddle affixed to the top of a bar stool.
It really took no time to reach the front of the line. Using an assembly line to put peoples’ dishes together is an easy way to keep people moving. The menu is also broken down in such a way that ordering is made simple. Customers choose from tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, quesadillas, salads, nachos or chili and their choice of protein. Those who want to eat meat-free can select from their tofu and veggies selection. Diablo’s also provides a kids menu for $3.95, including a drink and an unspecified “treat.”
I don’t know what kind of training is given to the employees, but they are all friendly and attentive — as in totally on the ball. I goofed up while ordering and they took care of my error immediately while smiling. Like that happens everywhere, right? The guy who started the line off even remembered a customer who hadn’t been in for some time and asked specific questions about the customer’s college experience. That’s not normal a fast-casual restaurant. And neither is seeing a manager out on the floor, smiling and helping an employee clean tables — I like that, Diablo’s. Keep it up.
With the exception of queso and guacamole, additional items such as grilled onions, tomatoes and beans are included in the price of the entrée. There’s no limit on what you can choose to pair with your meal, so I opted to fill my chicken quesadilla with cheese, grilled onions and peppers, fresh cilantro, Spanish rice with some sour cream to dip it all in. Diablo’s doesn’t have a freezer, so all their ingredients are fresh and freshly prepared in-house, which is also not the norm when it comes to fast food in the CSRA.
The plump quesadilla was served on a basket of tortilla chip so I grabbed salsa at the self-serve station, as well as the rest of the stuff I needed — napkins and a soda. Diablo’s has been advertising “beer, coming soon” for quite some time now, but aside from the Corona logo painted on the wall, I didn’t see any evidence of alcohol. And no, it’s not like I really needed a beer but IMHO a good Landshark or Dos Equis goes quite nicely with a quesadilla.
The chips were hot and perfectly salty, but not greasy or over-fried. The quesadilla was quite a beast, chopped into three thick wedges oozing with melted cheese and all the goodness I chose to accompany the chicken. The rice or peppers had a kick to them — I couldn’t actually tell where it was coming from because both were in virtually every bite. The fact that the veggies were fresh was obvious and the cilantro really topped the dish off with a high note. Its sharp, pungent flavor brought out the earthy, smoky flavors of the roast peppers and onions. I was smugly happy with my combo.
Music plays in the background and there’s only one flat screen TV on one wall with the volume turned down low, which is a welcome change from the terrible trend sweeping casual restaurants in the area. But the coolest thing is the complimentary charging stations found at each of the booths and on the walls. Anyone who needs to charge their mobile device can do so for free. There is even free wi-fi, though it’s a 2G network and easily over-burdened. I wasn’t able to access it once while eating, but again it wasn’t exactly a necessity so no harm, no foul.
If you’re not so full you can’t move when you’re finished, Diablo’s sells huge Prairie City cookies at the register. I was ready to fall into a food coma so I passed on them, but not until I had stared at one for a good 40 seconds weighing up the pros and cons of trying to punish myself with that many chocolate chips. And I totally could have fed my face privately, because if you don’t have time to sit down you can always get your food to go.
Overall, a pretty good experience and one I hope is replicated downtown. Of course, who knows how things will change for them as they take on a third restaurant — things get hectic and some good habits can be dropped in favor of what’s “easy” but I hope not. In fact, I’m hoping if there are any changes they are solely for the better, though I just don’t know what they can do to improve this place. Maybe they could find that beer that’s coming soon…