Many restaurateurs are groomed for their career path from infancy, growing up in kitchens where they bonded with family over lovingly prepared meals. Not Mario Herrera. He entered into the restaurant industry out of necessity, not nostalgia, tackling dishes by the sink-full as he earned money to put himself through college. And though he took the job for financial reasons, he soon found himself falling in love with it, unexpectedly nourished by the smiles of well-fed patrons. Mario began taking on different positions in the restaurant, serving meals and pouring cocktails until he learned the ins and outs of the entire process. Eventually he opened his own place, The Red Iguana, and he does everything he can to make the place feel like a second home for his staff, guests, and talking cartoon plates.
It's only natural: you'd almost have to live there to get through the menu's extensive selection of hearty Mexican dishes. There's a mix of tacos, burritos, and fajitas, of course, but it's his own creations that set the place apart. Unique appetizers play on traditional favorites, such as mole chicken wings or grilled-veggie nachos. The entrees—which are conveniently categorized by protein or veggie—include pork tenderloin with adobo sauce and grilled chicken topped with chorizo and pineapple. The camaron al mojo de ajo is a perennial favorite, a spread of shrimp sauteed with wine and garlic, all served atop rice and avocado salad.
Part Mexican cantina, part Irish pub, and all cop, Garcia Brogan's blends disparate cultures in both its menu and its decor, which features murals and folk art from Mexico and Ireland. Whether guests want a glass of Irish whiskey or a fine tequila, Garcia Brogan's bartenders keep the drinks flowing, pouring a river of alcohol in which tacos and shepherd's pie bob appetizingly. The restaurant hosts pub trivia nights and live Irish music on the weekends.
Mexican chefs prepare Mexican food that's served in a dining area enclosed by walls decorated with Mexican art. Wooden hot plates keep tile-topped tables and overzealous servers' heads safe from fajita skillets that emit the sounds and scents of sizzling chicken, beef, or shrimp. Patrons may enhance their authentic meals with sprinkles of salt and pepper shaken out of repurposed Coronita bottles and complement their cuisine with oversized margaritas—crafted at the wraparound bar with a selection of more than 40 tequilas.
Founded in 2005, Ixtapa Mexican Grill and Cantina rode a wave of authentic mole sauce and frosty margarita mix and expanded from one location to four. They treasure the same family recipes in each kitchen, be it the mild green tomatillo sauce sauteed with traditional pork Chili Verde or the signature fish tacos with mango. The décor and specials, on the other hand, varies from joint to joint, with the Lunenburg location boasting stucco-like walls with red accents and a taco bar during NFL games.
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.
Inside Sierras, an antlered chandelier overlooks cream tile-plated tables, ocean blue floors, and walls festooned with antlered skulls and colorful plates in pale blues and vibrant reds. The meals are just as colorful, from the dollops of sour cream, pico de gallo, and chili that top a tower of homemade corn nachos to the roasted red peppers, sweet corn, and Monterey jack cheese that pops out of burritos.