Friday, May 14, 2010
After a long wait, the space that was formerly Denny’s in Lexington has been refashioned into Margaritas Restaurant and Watering Hole. Margaritas opened in late February to thirsty throngs craving tequila drinks and Mexican home cooking. Margaritas serves both up nicely. Although a restaurant chain, each franchise seems to make its own subtle changes to the menu so the cooks are given latitude to experiment with the local palate. My family came to México from Europe in the 1800s and both my cooking and eating skills were honed in the years I lived there. Although true Mexican cuisine is quite complex, the street food – tacos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas – and its national drink, tequila – have become Mexico’s ambassadors to the world.
The interior of the restaurant is happy with bright Mexican wall tiles and ceramic decorations. The bar/lounge area is inviting and hip, the music a blend of ballads and lively Mexican dance tunes. Service is quick and solicitous, and the young staffers get your drink order as soon as you look up from the extensive menu. If you order a margarita, you will be asked if you want a specialty tequila upgrade. Save the better tequila for straight shots and go with the house variety for mixed drinks.
The classic margaritas are perfect pitch, ice cold, with a great lime juice base, and the fruit/blender based ones are a wonderful introduction to the summer. Several good Mexican beers are available besides the omnipresent Corona – try Negra Modelo if you like dark beer. The drink menu is long and varied and all are made by a dedicated bar master. Beware of course; …tequila is a subtle stealth-attack liquor!
The food is fresh and classic, and the nouveau dishes are innovative and tasty. Many of the classic combos (tacos, burritos, etc.) are featured, so you can easily taste several dishes at one sitting. To keep you happy, a basket of nachos and a well spiced chunky salsa arrives with your drinks. Appetizers are generous, and arrive quickly. Nachos Deluxe is crisp tortilla chips showered with cheese/chilies over refried beans, with sour cream and guacamole. The chipotle chicken wings are a big plate of seven meaty wings in a spicy smoky sauce, with a soothing blue cheese sour cream dip to cool you off. Aztec shrimp quesadillas are four large juicy mouthfuls of spicy shrimp with a sour cream chaser. Flautas (flutes), corn tortillas filled with beef or chicken, then fried to golden crispiness, and lightly zigzagged with red and green hot sauce and white sour cream (the colors of the Mexican flag) are my favorites. Ask the waitress to beg the cook to make them; they are part of the bar menu not the dinner menu, but I think we should order them until they make it part of the main courses. Regular salads are available but do try the jicama (hee’ca ma) sticks salad, with a lime/ cilantro pesto dressing which is wonderful and refreshing. (Jicama looks like a huge potato with a texture not unlike a water chestnut, and with the same calorie count – none.) Margaritas also makes some zesty salad dressing – try the tequila lime dressing for kicks.
The entrees are also good-sized. The chile relleno (stuffed pepper) with pork or cheese is a huge roasted poblano pepper, battered and fried, then bathed in a light tomato sauce. The slightly acid taste of the pepper flesh with the creamy cheese or tender pork is fantastic. Ask for the black beans, with their hint of cumin, to go with the rice side dish. The Frontera steak was a bit overcooked and lacking in any specific flavor from the rub it sported. A plate of fish tacos was a mixed bag; a tasty tilapia fish filling but the corn tortillas fell apart upon contact. Thankfully, the green tomatillo dipping sauce made up for any missteps here. All entrees come with rice and beans; there are other veggie sides too.
The standard Tex-Mex foods are all here – but the most Mexican of Mexican foods – mole (MO-lay), that delicious rich sauce made up from several kinds of dried hot peppers, tomatoes, nuts and a tiny bit of chocolate to sweeten it all – is absent. There are many varieties of mole – red, black, brown, yellow and green – while the most well known are the dark red or black varieties that are poured over turkey, chicken or enchiladas. A mole paste is sold in Latin food stores here, and I have been impressed by how yummy the final product is and how quickly it can be made. Perhaps we can ask Margaritas to try it out?
Margaritas, 438 Bedford Street, (off of Rte 128/95, Exit 31B) in Lexington. Dining area hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. Bar hours: 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sunday. Moderate prices, valet parking for dinner, family friendly.
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito