Though Cactus Rose Restaurant & Tequila Bar is only a teenager in dog years, owners Maria and Katerina Pertesis are no strangers to the restaurant business with more than 40 years experience. The upscale eatery’s cuisine is best summed up as contemporary Southwestern, thanks to Executive Chef Norberto Lucero’s skillful incorporation of Spanish, Mexican, and Southwestern flavors.
A Mexican native, Lucero has fun with his food. One peek at the menu reveals the usual aspects of Latin cuisine: fish tacos, paella dotted with prawns, little-neck clams, mussels, and black-iron skillet fajitas—sizzling with caramelized onions and bell peppers. Yet, for every expected entree, Lucero offers a surprise in the form of baby back ribs in an orange barbecue glaze, skirt steak with an orange chipotle mojo, and tequila chicken—a free-range, chicken stuffed with chorizo and manchego cheese. Like the chicken, all of Lucero’s meats are quality; he serves only wild-caught organic seafood, grass-fed beef, and free-range chicken.
While the menu impresses, it’s only half of Cactus Rose’s appeal. The tequila bar is also a contender, as it’s stocked with 50 varieties of tequila, and bartenders dispense freshly concocted margaritas mulled from fresh squeezed lime juice and fruits. Cactus Rose delivers an inviting atmosphere with rustic wood furnishings and cowhide chairs surrounded by red, orange, and a yellow hand-carved stained-glass mosaic. A warm large outdoor fireplace on the patio keeps patrons toasty during the winter months, and an outdoor patio—bumping with live music—convinces them to temporarily forget their fear of birds’ nests and dine al fresco during the summer.
Established by a mother, four brothers, and a wealth of culinary cunning, Cuatro Hermanos Luncheria mingles a multitude of menu items from Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and more. Begin a dinner dissertation with a delectable thesis of maduros con crema, a helping of fried sweet plantains sidled by crema fresco ($4.95), or calamari adorned with house-made dipping sauce ($8.95). Entrees pack taste-bud-pleasing flavor combinations, such as the savory and sweet notes of the South American arepas, which stuff cheeses, meats, and other trimmings into saccharine sleeping bags of corn cake ($3.50–$7.95). Tacos come in authentic ($6.95) or el gringo ($7.25) varietals and can be dressed in a multitude of meaty frocks, and the lomo saltado’s stir-fry of sirloin, tomato, and onions invokes images of Peru more vividly than a pair of dinner-appropriate binoculars ($10.95).
Helmed by Prasad Chirnomula—accomplished owner and executive chef of multiple area restaurants—Oaxaca Kitchen celebrates the nuanced flavors of Mexico. The same flair that Prasad brings to his acclaimed Indian recipes ignites his mole sauces, whose red and yellow variants spice up chicken breast and market-fresh fish, respectively. These sauces are painstakingly traditional, but other meals dabble in experimentation. The ceviche Veracruz, for example, was praised by the New York Times for its touch of sorbet, which "brightened and chilled the seafood" in the tangy starter.
Alternatively, guests can dig into hanger steak one of two ways—marinated and grilled with jalapeño pan juices or cooked with avocado and maguey leaves—before tippling tequilas from a sizable drink menu. Huevos rancheros and bloody marias make appearances at brunch, and live music crops up on Friday nights.
Avocados, jalapeños, and tomatillos. These staples of traditional Mexican cuisine take center stage at Tacos Mexico, where the dishes’ rustic simplicity lets their flavors shine through. Chefs nestle tender morsels of steak, carnitas, or chorizo into corn tortillas to create their signature tacos, and they also turn out more complex entrees, such as cubes of pork loin blanketed in a rich mole sauce or vegetarian options that spotlight portabella mushrooms and cacti.
As guest conclude their meals with sweet nibbles of tres leches cake or coconut flan, they can listen to the ebb and flow of a soccer match broadcast on the flat-screen television hanging over the bar. Nearby, a belt of cornflower blue wraps around the dining room’s bright, yellow walls, which bear paintings of traditional Mexican pueblos rather than Mexico’s newest moon colonies.
At Los Cabos Mexican Restaurant, everything from the cheese-infused guacamole whipped up tableside to the tender charbroiled carne asada is made from scratch every day. Each dish draws on three generations of family recipes perfected by cofounders Jose and Sergio in 25 years of combined culinary experience. The extensive menu pairs dozens of Mexican staples with more than 20 flavors of margarita, including jalapeño lime, mango, and cucumber, and recent renovations have updated Los Cabos’s interior to include an in-house tortilla station and an expanded bar area capable of hosting the entire Vienna Boys Choir
As Lou Solis—owner of Don Carmelo's Mexican Grill—sees it, going out to a Mexican restaurant is a two-part experience. The first part is the food, which he bases on authentic Mexican family recipes and whispers from aging cacti. The second component is the air of festivity. “I loved the Mexican atmosphere,” Solis says. “It’s a party. It’s a destination. It’s not just to get something to eat quickly.” And the food is easy to savor––Solis sources his ingredients from Mexican distributors and fresh deliveries of local produce and meat every day.