In the dark of night, the brightly lit façades of The Fat Cactus locations glow like a beacon, beckoning diners to come and sample their classic Mexican and Tex-Mex foods. The restaurants' interiors are no less eye-catching. House-specialty fazzizzles—short for sizzling fajitas—top tables in dining rooms filled with vibrant reds and yellows. Rows of hubcaps glisten on walls next to strings of lights. And hundreds of emptied tequila bottles dangle from the ceiling, testament to the popularity of the menu's dozen specialty margaritas. For extra entertainment, musicians fill ears with their tuneful crooning every night, and a room with classic arcade games lets kids play at adult tasks, such as driving a car or helping zombies file their tax returns.
Named for the friendship of restaurateurs Abelardo Gallego, Manuel Vazquez, and Andres Cervantes, according to Wicked Local, Three Amigos crafts a menu of familiar Mexican specialties, each tailored to taste homemade by including fresh, natural ingredients, often from local sources. Seafood dishes abound as morsels of shrimp and scallops take on traditional south-of-the-border spices in the form of chipotle, jalapeño, and poblano peppers. Meanwhile, five styles of enchiladas swim in colorful sauces including the signature mole, which RocklandNews.com calls "punchy" and "genuine" with "plenty of sweet and savory flavors." Ten types of margaritas extinguish mouth fires caused by peppery spices and attempts to install rear molars with mood lighting, and a bevy of Mexican desserts crown meals in sweetness. In the dining room, soft lights illuminate vivid orange walls emblazoned with paintings of cacti, and curtain-lined booths lavish diners with a prime listening space for live music and standup comedy.
The chefs at Acapulcos Mexican Family Restaurant & Cantina aim to cook authentic Mexican dishes unaltered by any Tex-Mex influence. Their recipes reach back generations within the owners' family and several miles into their underground tortilla vaults. Spanish-speaking servers deliver simple combinations of protein or veggies, topped with vibrant sauces: carne asada steak dressed in green pepper and guacamole, tender pork loin in tomatillo sauce, chicken in chocolate mole. The chefs' adherence to tradition doesn't preclude experimentation. Case in point: the dessert burrito, a lightly fried tortilla wrapped around apple-cinnamon or creamy cheesecake filling.
Both the menu and the decor change slightly from location to location—a painting of Mexico here, a tiled mosaic there. Each one, however, has a full bar where bartenders mix margaritas and flat-screen TVs broadcasting sports overhead.
Offering the yin and yang of casual comestibles, yoTaco's menu fires up taste buds with tacos, burritos, and other piquant Mexican bites and cools them down with creamy frozen yogurt. Seven unique tacos ($5.50–$7.50) tantalize fingers with pockets of marinated beef brisket barbacoa style or achiote-spiced mahi-mahi with cabbage and pico de gallo. Large flour tortillas swallow up fillings such as chicken with green salsa, seasonal vegetables, or smoked pork to create that most portable, and thus most easily misplaced, of sandwiches, the burrito ($7.50), and a mantle of bacon and guacamole confer the status of Sonoran hot dog ($6 each/$10 for two) on humble sausages. Lips and teeth reach a happy accord with the soup-and-sandwich combination ($5), happily slurping traditional hominy stew and sinking into gooey cheese quesadillas. To finish off the meal in sweet style, storms of berries, candy-bar bits, or stampedes of gummy goats pelt peaks of fat-free chocolate or vanilla frozen yogurt ($3.99 for a regular cup with one topping) and, for an additional $0.25, threaten to release other sweet tempests to rain down onto confections in a dairy-dimpling hail.
Classic Oaxacan cuisine receives a contemporary update at Zocalo Mexican Bistro. Crispy flautas and grilled chicken topped with house-made mole sauce showcase the restaurant's traditional roots. However, chefs exercise a bit more creativity when making dishes such as beer-battered, fried avocado sticks or a Cuban-inspired torta—a slow-cooked pulled pork sandwich with smoked applewood bacon, a black bean purée, pickled jalapeño, and chipotle mustard.
These bold flavors complement the dining room's vibrant decor, which features sunset-hued walls, colorful tiles, and hand-painted ceramics. During the warmer months, the outdoor patio opens, providing guests with a cozy place to enjoy a bottle of Mexican beer, a glass of sangria, or a balloon animal filled with sparkling water.
Perhaps the only thing as impressive as Dorado’s cemita sandwich (a stack of black beans, chipotles, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, and meat or veggies on a toasted sesame-seed egg roll) is its unflappable dedication to the environment. Napkins, plates, and utensils are biodegradable, wooden floors are recycled, and tables are reclaimed.