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.
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.
Using old family recipes, La Siesta offers fresh, homemade Mexican comfort food. Start out with chicken nachos ($7.95) and queso fundido peppered with chorizo and poblanos ($6.50), or feed a fleet of mouth ships from a la carte items, including cheese enchiladas ($2.50 each), steak tacos ($3.50 each), and chiles rellenos ($3.50 each). Special entrees such as shrimp fajitas ($14.95) and sautéed tilapia with white wine, black olives, and other veggies ($13.95) fire up tongue ovens, while deep-fried chimichangas combine shredded chicken or ground beef with pico de gallo, rice, and beans in a blanket of cheese, ranchero sauce, and sour cream ($9.95). Knock out lunchtime stomach rumbles with the huevos rancheros burrito, a combo of scrambled eggs and peppers alongside tomatoes, beans, and cheese ($5.95), or lure sweet teeth with flan and fried ice cream (both $3.95).
Within the bustling Faneuil Hall, Mija Cantina & Tequila Bar’s old-style décor transports diners to Mexico, while authentically crafted enchiladas and burritos complement more than 100 kinds of tequila. Since its opening, which caught the attention of the Boston Herald, Mija Cantina has delighted tongues with fresh guacamole and queso fresco. Diners hoist sails above their tables and grip knives betwixt their teeth before casting off with red snapper, lobster, and swordfish, or stay on solid ground with grilled steak and seared chicken breast. A selection of sides rounds out meals with additions ranging from the spicy lime mayo of corn on the cob to a simmering portion of pinto beans, bacon, and chorizo, whose protein boosts muscles after an evening workout or before a late-night battle royale.
Mija Cantina's décor, highlighted by NECN’s TV Diner and Thrillist, incorporates sun-bleached wood reclaimed from a Wyoming highway, iron candelabras, and leather booths to recreate the feel of a cantina from the past. Vaqueros celebrate romantic anniversaries of the day they married their six-shooters in the glow of lanterns or in the fresh breeze of outdoor seating as they quaff tequila made with 100% blue agave.:m]]
Tex-Mex culture influences every aspect of Sunset Cantina, from the distinctive Southwestern cuisine to the selection of more than 110 tequilas that helps create classic frozen margaritas—named on Boston magazine's list of 30 Best Cocktails. These icy oases offer tongues much-needed respite after they explore an expansive menu of Mexican comfort food, Texas-style barbecue, grilled new york strip steaks, and other cookout cuisine. Chefs create signature beer-bathed burgers—perhaps their centerpiece—by searing half-pound patties of ground sirloin on a steam grill. These treats as well as 38 beers on tap are available throughout the day and well into the night, as the kitchen stays open and cooking until 1 a.m.
The high-ceilinged dining area combines the scattered booth seating of a roadside diner with the intimate lighting and ambiance of a neighborhood bar. Metal lanterns hang over each table, framed collections of beer-bottle labels decorate the walls, and flat-screen televisions entertain patrons with sports and endless footage of the United States’ secretary of education playing Trivial Pursuit.