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.
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.
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.
Back when Cilantro opened in 2002, Boston Magazine praised the eatery for its "authentic, hearty, and diverse Mexican specialties," which they called "breaths of fresh air." More than a decade later, owner and executive chef Esther Marin still aims to keep her lunch, dinner, and dessert menus interesting, creating new recipes that infuse Mediterranean flavors into upscale Mexican dishes. Using only all-natural ingredients, she crafts entrees that range from cheese-stuffed meatballs in chipotle sauce to pork chops crowned with chihuahua cheese and pineapples. A selection of 48 tequilas wash down meals inside a dining room wrapped in exposed brick walls that keep diner’s conversations from escaping the restaurant.
One might leave Red Lulu Cocina & Tequila Bar, which was named this year's best new restaurant north of Boston by Boston Magazine, with some sense of the broad scope of Mexican cuisine, geography, and culture. That epiphany might come from the selection of 180 tequilas, which slip down in shots, release bell peals of clicking ice in glasses, or blend with lime in thick margaritas rimmed with salt. The tantalizing menu also parades traditional Mexican ingredients, though they are tangled into surprising configurations.
Red chandeliers glow, bringing to life the colors of chipotle peppers on plates at plush black booth seating, all beneath red wallpaper. In the tequila lounge, ample couches create a circle around red, candlelit tables for resting a glass of sangria or a mojito muddled with strawberries or cucumber. A row of inset shadowboxes displays the colorful lucha libre masks typically used in overblown battles and attempts to go out in public without being recognized as Kevin Bacon.