The $10 Challenge: Manny and Merle

Manny & Merle on Main Street. Say that three times fast.
Manny & Merle on Main Street. Say that three times fast.

I knew it was time to write about Manny & Merle’s when I panicked over what I thought was the restaurant’s closing. Rob and I happened to be downtown on a Monday evening and we decided to stop by this modern honky-tonk on Main Street. Instead of tacos and country music, we were greeted with a locked door. Dark had settled over the long, narrow restaurant. The tall seats I had climbed onto during some good happy hours were flipped upside down on the table. Was my favorite downtown spot was closed? I took to Twitter for answers to ease what I hoped was just an overreaction. Fortunately, the fine folks behind the Manny & Merle Twitter account let me know they’re closed on Sundays and Mondays, so I just needed to chill the eff out (my words, not theirs). But in that moment of panic, I realized that I had grown to love Manny & Merle.

Manny & Merle’s inexpensive, tasty takes on Mexican food and impressive happy hour specials have made this restaurant/bar/music venue a regular part of my downtown life. Add a selection of musical acts and its prime spot down the block from the Yum! Center, and you’ve got yourself a nice spot to put into your going-out rotation.

The Mannyrita. Order it immediately.
The Mannyrita. Order it immediately.

There are two prime times to visit Manny & Merle’s: lunch and happy hour (if only the two overlapped…). From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can order a “choose two” lunch combo for just $6.49, a downright steal for a meal at a sit-down, downtown restaurant. The hours between 4 and 7 p.m. are indeed happy — Mannyritas, the restaurant’s crisp take on margaritas, are $3 and glasses of Dos Equis Amber on draft are $2.50.

There are many ways to just spend $10 at Manny & Merle’s, even if you get an adult beverage, too. Here are a few of my favorite options:

Take a midday break with the “Choose Two” lunch of a half chopped salad and green chili pork taco. Order total: $6.49

Manny’s Lunch Special lets you select two of the following menu items for the aforementioned price: a half salad, a single taco, tortilla soup, a half order of nachos, or a sandwich (it’s an extra $2.75 if your combo includes a sandwich). The salad/taco pairing is my favorite. Imagine nachos without all the stuff that’s bad for you. That’s what you get in the chopped salad, a crunchy medley of roasted corn, black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, chihuahua cheese and tortilla strips on a bed of lettuce. I opt for the cilantro-honey vinaigrette, which adds enough sweetness to make the salad pop. Don’t worry if you’re cilantro-adverse; there’s also a chipotle dressing option. The green chili pork taco is the standout of the Manny & Merle taco selection. Pulled pork is topped with green chili jam for a salty/sweet/tangy combo that makes it hard to order anything else.

The half sizes of the salad and nachos are good for a light lunch, but if you’re looking to have a midday throwdown, add another taco to your order. An additional $3 taco such as the wild mushroom, the chorizo, or carnitas or even a $3.5 option like the pollo rojo or green chili pork will keep you under $10.

Want a drink and a snack before you head to a show at the Yum! Center? Go for a Mannyrita ($3 during happy hour) and an order of queso and pretzels ($6). Order total: $9
Pretzel sticks and queso at Manny & Merle.
Pretzel sticks and queso at Manny & Merle.

Manny & Merle has spoiled me with their three-hour happy hour. There’s no need to rush out of the office for a drink, and you can stay awhile without shelling out a lot of money. As long as your butt is on a wooden bench before 7 p.m., you’re golden.

If you’re a fan of margaritas, Manny & Merle’s version will change your life. Seriously. I haven’t been the same since the first time I sipped that deliciousness that comes in a jar (it’s a honky tonk, remember?). It errs on the sweet side, but it’s not as sugary as some of the pre-made offerings I’ve had at other restaurants. And for the love of Christmas, they’re only $3. Plan accordingly for a designated driver, just in case you get too happy.

I wouldn’t normally go for pretzel sticks at a Mexican-ish restaurants, but Manny & Merle have nailed this appetizer by pairing the deep-fried bread with creamy queso. It’s hard to go wrong with fried carbs and cheese. It’s even better with pretzel sticks that are piping hot with a crisp exterior and soft, fluffy insides.

Dip into the appetizer menu again for an order of traditional guacamole and chips ($4.50) and a brisket taco ($4). Order total: $8.50
When I say "Brisket," you say, "Taco."
When I say “Brisket,” you say, “Taco.”

My only complaint with the guacamole is that it disappears too quickly. It’s hard to share such a tasty dip, so grab an order all to yourself. Don’t worry, we won’t judge. The brisket taco with caramelized onions and peppers, cilantro and queso fresco is tiny, but packs a savory punch that will add a little heft to a light meal like this.

Tired of mixing and matching? Try the El Vez Burger, which comes with tortilla chips. Order total: $8

Once again, it might not feel quit right to order a burger from such a Mexican-influenced menu. But the El Vez burger is a juicy delight on a ciabatta bun. The angus burger is topped with the green chili jam that’s on the so-named pork taco (hey, that’s the secret ingredient to goodness!), roasted garlic aioli and cilantro. It ain’t much in terms of toppings, but there’s a good flavors happening that makes this a surprise treat.

Now it’s time for you guys to swarm Manny & Merle. Just not on a Monday.

Manny & Merle

122 West Main Street, Louisville

For more information, visit Manny & Merle’s website or Twitter feed

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