After three years running Hacienda Real in south Lincoln, Aurora Curiel knows one thing for sure: Nebraskans love their beef.

The Mexican restaurant owner said anything on the menu with carne asada — thinly sliced, marinated skirt steak — is a big seller, from tacos to entrees.

“They want good meat,” Curiel said.

The carne asada, along with Hacienda Real’s family recipes for mole, verde and chipotle sauces, are reasons why the restaurant has done so well since opening at SouthPointe Pavilions in October 2014.

Its success has led to expansion. Curiel, her brother Daniel Curiel and brother-in-law Jose Mora opened a second Hacienda Real on Oct. 16 at 4811 N.W. First St. in north Lincoln in the Highlands.

The restaurant takes over the spot once occupied by Slice Pizzeria.

Aurora Curiel, who moved to Lincoln in 2009, continues to be the driving force behind the Mexican eatery. She grew up in a family of 10 children, with many of them having restaurant experience, primarily in family-owned eateries in Colorado.

She said she and family decided to open a second restaurant in response to diner requests.

“People kept asking if we were going to open another one, and if we could possibly do it on the other side of town,” she said. “We think this is a good opportunity.”

So far, the neighborhood has been most welcoming. My wife and I ventured there on a Tuesday night — typically a slower one for restaurants — and found the restaurant nearly packed. And Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays have been crazy busy, Curiel said.

Food

Those who’ve enjoyed Hacienda Real’s food at SouthPointe will be pleased to know the menu is exactly the same at the north location.

The restaurant prides itself on an immense number of selections, broken down into combination plates, specialty dishes and seafood, chicken, pork and beef entrees. There’s also a large selection of burritos, tacos, enchiladas and fajitas. Most are family recipes.

Having enjoyed a specialty dish (and the delicious verde sauce) before, I opted for one of the combo meals: the Guadalajara Special ($14.95), which featured grilled New York steak, a smothered chile relleno and a deep-fried chicken burrito. It was an interesting (and tasty) combination of beef, chicken and vegetarian dishes.

My wife enjoyed the Enchiladas Suizas ($9.95), two corn tortillas filled with choice of cheese, shredded chicken, shredded beef, ground beef (Rebecca’s pick) or pork. With no specialty sauce, these are the most authentic of the enchilada choices. They did feature a straightforward tomatillo sauce.

The portions are large. I barely finished mine and Rebecca took half of her entree home.

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We also ordered margaritas, which taste vastly different than those at other Mexican eateries. That’s because Hacienda Real uses freshly squeezed lemon instead of mixer. Grade: B

Atmosphere

Other than the black-and-white tiled floor, the restaurant looks nothing like the pizzeria it used to be. Curiel said her family did a complete makeover, which included new equipment for the kitchen and new furnishings for the dining room.

The dining area features black padded pine booths throughout with short walls filling the center of the room to help separate diners from each other. At the back of the restaurant is a new bar with black, chair-backed stools.

The wall decor is a variety of Western and food-themed prints, all with black frames to match the booths and floor. The family threw in a couple of wagon wheels above the liquor cabinets to add to the Western feel. Grade: A

Service

Hacienda Real hit on most of the cylinders here, doing the things that most diners have come to expect from Mexican restaurants. That includes beginning the meal with complimentary tortilla chips — thin and lightly salted — served with refried beans and a homemade salsa and delivering entrees in a timely manner. Ours arrived about five minutes after ordering. The only glitch: I asked for extra beans and no rice; my entree arrived with rice. Grade: B+

Specialty diets

Hacienda Real offers three vegetarian dishes — fajitas, enchiladas and a burrito — plus a variety of cheese enchilada entrees. The appetizer menu features several vegetarian selections that can work as entrees, including quesadillas, nachos and a guacamole salad. Nothing is labeled gluten-free, so check with the restaurant before ordering. Grade: B

Reach the writer at 402-473-7213 or jkorbelik@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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Features editor

Jeff Korbelik is the features editor and covers dining, performing arts, TV and local media. Follow him at @LJSjeffkorbelik.

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