Before he could call himself a master of Mexican cooking, chef Jim Fahey knew what he had to do. He went straight to the source, traveling extensively throughout Mexico and picking up new skills wherever he could—in restaurants, at street vendors’ carts, and even in the kitchens of local homes. After more than 30 years as a chef, Fahey has found what it takes to craft Mexican food the right way. His discoveries abroad compelled him to open Habanero’s Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, where he crafts dishes that are healthy, fresh, and simple. Take, for example, his guacamole. Whether infused with chipotle or topped with salsa and Mexican cheese, every bowl of the creamy dip is made to order. The same goes for the enchiladas and burritos, the latter of which can only reasonably be eaten with a knife and fork or two sharpened oars. Fahey is also an expert in tequila, as his menu of nearly 100 premium variations will attest. The agave spirits are served in margaritas, flights, or shot glasses.
Guadalajara, nestled in the state of Jalisco, was the birthplace of many of the flavors used in Mexican food. Those influences shine through in the recipes at Taqueria Mexico, where the chefs draw on family recipes brought by over from the inventive city. The dishes have helped earn the eatery very good to excellent ratings on Zagat.
As at any good taqueria, the gorditas, tacos, tortas, and burritos can be stuffed with a wide range of meats and veggies. Carnitas, pork traditionally slow cooked with green chilies, is nearly as tender as steamed beef al vapor. Lengua, or beef tongue, is also a time-tested taqueria meat. And like the dependents section of a scarecrow’s taxes, the eatery’s quesadillas brim with squash.
Banners of colorful papel picado decorations flutter above Cafe Sol Azteca's seasonal patio, where a tile mosaic wall echoes the folk art hanging in the main dining room. Inside, chefs whip up guacamole—ranked among the best in the city by Boston Magazine—and simmer chicken in rich chocolate-infused mole sauce, or tuck tender cactus into salads. These specialties match with more than 15 varieties of margaritas, such as the blue frozen margarita and the Three Generation Margarita with a glass rim that the kitchen staff rolls in salt uphill both ways.
The burritos at Ixtapa Mexican Grill & Cantina aren't the handheld fast-food variety. Far from it, actually. The sauces and melted cheeses that smother the tortillas make them best eaten with a fork. Some of the burritos are stuffed with classic fillings, such as chicken or slices of grilled steak, whereas others are more innovative: the Atlantic Burrito is filled with shrimp, crab, fish, and scallops. There's even a fried apple-caramel burrito for dessert.
Though Ixtapa's chefs eagerly experiment with their dishes, there's no "Tex-Mex" on the menu—every taco, chimichanga, and enchilada is a remnant of an old family recipe. Each one can be traced back to its inspiration in Guadalajara and its namesake resort in Mexico. Margaritas complement the food with flavors of blackberry and kiwi, and range from the classic hand-shaken lime margarita to El Presidente, made with Cuervo 1800 tequila and delivered via motorcade.
At Acitrón, chefs elevate traditional Mexican mainstays to bistro-level sophistication. Like the world’s most edible bionic man, each dish is assembled by a crack team using locally sourced produce, meats, and seafood, with menu items including tilapia fish tacos and the crepas de rajas poblanas stuffed with grilled poblano strips, corn kernels, yellow squash, zucchini, and sour cream. Meals unfold in a dining room decked with hardwood floors, floral artwork, and sparkling granite tables topped with flickering candles. Shielded by a basket of fresh limes, a full bar slings libations including margaritas, specialty cocktails, and tequila drinks. Acitrón’s scratch-made desserts also add sweet punctuation to meals with bites including flan, tres leches, and chocolate tamales topped with Mexican-vanilla ice cream.
Owner and head chef of Viva Mexican Grill and Tequileria, Carlos Mendez grew up in Mexico watching his mother and aunts as they concocted labor-intensive food without batting an eye. He would even venture off to the countryside to collect any wild mushrooms they might need. Now at his restaurant, he keeps his culinary traditions alive with his menu of Central Mexican cuisine. Fresh guacamole made table-side prepare palates for forthcoming entrees. Handmade masa pancakes topped with queso fresco join slow-cooked pork carnitas and tricolor plates of chilis en nogada with creamy walnut sauce. Thirteen types of margaritas and chilled coladas and daiquiris cool tongues coated in hot spices.
The festive decor of earthy deep blues, red clay tiles and adobe-colored walls also pays tribute to his homeland, as does a mariachi band. These musicians rove between tables, serenading diners with romantic string and vocal harmonies and the occasional rap battle.