Warmth from the wood-burning oven just visible in the kitchen mingles with the soft diffused glow of overhanging punched lamps, filling the rustic space with a colonial Mexican ambiance. The chefs draw from modern, Old-World, and australopithecus cooking techniques while simmering dishes such as PEI mussels in chipotle butter, white wine, and mexican tequila. Whenever possible, they base their creations around sustainable seafood, local produce, and meat from grass-fed cows sourced from Pineland Farms. More than 80 tequilas, ranging from newborn blancos to 3-year-old anejos, populate the libations list, and the extensive wine list features vinos from Chile, Argentina, and Italy.
Old Port Sandwich Shop’s more than 30 varieties of hot sandwiches, wraps, and burgers tempt taste buds along with housemade soups and chowders. Their menu satisfies vegetarians and carnivores alike with options such as hummus and crisp veggies bundled in wheat wraps and hefty meatball-and-provolone subs that test hand strength as much as a sock-puppet rendition of Les Misérables. Custom sandwiches pair more than 11 varieties of bread with just as many fixings, including corned beef, meatloaf, and liverwurst. Dine-in customers are welcome to cruise the shop’s free WiFi while perched beside picture windows that overlook Market Street.
Mesa Verde mirrors its arts-district home with a colorful palette of homemade Mexican favorites adorned with fresh-salsa and sauce bursts. Chefs craft a dinner menu packed with crispy chimichangas, tamales made from a family recipe, and hearty vegetarian and vegan picks, including eggplant rollups and tempeh tacos. A special gluten-free menu boasts fajitas and enchiladas forged from corn tortillas. At the bar, fresh fruits and house-made sour mix marry international tequilas to create margaritas with green cards. The eatery also delivers and accepts take-out orders during lunch.
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.
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.
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.