Friday, April 28, 2006

Mexican Worth Its Salsa in Lexington

One of the best things I took away from my time in Texas was an appreciation for good barbecue and good Mexican food. One of the things I've learned in New England is that you sometimes have to be willing to drive for good barbecue and good Mexican.

For the second one, at least, I no longer have to drive further than the other side of my own town. After several long months of suspense engendered by a "Coming Soon" banner, Ixtapa Mexican Restaurant has opened on Mass. Ave. in east Lexington.

Though it's only been open about a week, Ixtapa was already drawing a crowd as we learned last night. (Crowds on a Thursday! Obviously meeting a pent-up demand.) Despite being slammed, the service was friendly and swift (frequent water glass refills, woohoo!), and the menu large and tasty. (That's a figure of speech, btw--I didn't actually eat the menu.) Although many of the items bear a strong resemblance to those at Acapulco's (a small local chain I also happen to like--maybe Ixtapa's owner worked there?), the food was even better-prepared and the service friendlier. (For instance, despite the crowd, the owner and hostess both made a point of asking us how we enjoyed our meal, making sure we had a take-out menu, and asking us to return soon.)

I had the Shrimp Monterey (garlic, butter, mushrooms in a fabulous sauce), Jim had tasty pork carnitas, and The Boy chose chicken mole, with a rich sauce we ended up scooping onto our rice. (Jim's motto: Never give up a sauce!) Also, excellent chicken wings with just the right hint of spice. Nice margueritas, too. And the queso is white, as real queso (without the orange food coloring) was meant to be.

Aside from Indian food, Lexington is not exactly known as a hot-bed of ethnic cuisine (please, people--Vinny T's and Bertucci's do not count as ethnic). And maybe Mexican isn't exactly Nepalese (or even Guatamalan--mmm, plantains...), but it's good stuff when prepared authentically. Very good stuff.

Ixtapa--thanks for coming to my town! But one question: Have you ever thought about serving real barbacoa, Chihuahuan style? (Anyone who doesn't know what real barbacoa is, email me and I'll let you know. It's way, way better than it sounds.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard that Ixtapa and the Acapulco chain are owned by the same people.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

And that wouldn't surprise me, but I'm happy either way. :-)

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit further to drive, but for Mexican I'd heartily recommend Jose's Cantina in North Cambridge, not far from Alewife. Cheap margaritas and super yummy crispy tacos - it's kind of a hidden gem. (This from a native New Englander who just got his first stab at "real" Tex-Mex in San Antonio last week - Jose's measures up!)

4:33 PM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

Thanks for the tip! Always on the lookout for good Mexican!

8:28 AM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

And if you're willing to go to Arlington, definitely try Zocalo. Authentic, tasty, and reasonably priced. Relatively small, though, so either come early or expect a bit of a wait.

12:54 PM  
Blogger David said...

>"If you're willing to go to Arlington..."
Is that a slight on my town?! ;-)

We went to Ixtapa last night. We didn't have very friendly service, but we'll surely go again.

Our meals were good and the portions large. I had the pork carnitas (sic), The Wife had fish tacos, and The Little Bird just had a quezadilla (sic) off of the kids' menu. I had enough leftovers for a lunch (which I just had two hours ago).

The prices are a little higher than I'm used to for Mexican, but they are still cheaper than most restaurants.

I had a couple Pacifico cervezas, in very frosty glasses. They hit the spot (despite this wintery weather!).

I doubt we'll get take-out from there...because the highlight for us (other than the icy beer) was the chips and salsa. The chips were nice and warm, and thin and crisp, and had a good quality (sea?) salt on 'em. The salsa was very fresh and had lots of cilantro. We ate two baskets full of chips (hence the leftover entree).

As I wrote above, we'll be back to Ixtapa, but partly just because of the location. We have a lot of Mexican restaurants that we like as much:
* Boca Grande on Mass Ave Cambridge, between Porter and Harvard Sqs. No waitstaff or liquor license, but great food, a nice setting and wicked cheap.

* Jose's, is great, as Anonymous wrote above. Ask for the posole, even though its not written on the menu. It's a very kid-friendly restaurant...with liquor.

* Taqueria Mexico is in Waltham and has the BEST food ...and outdoor seating!

* Taqueria La Mexicana is another counter-ordering place without a liquor license, but the food is great and outrageously cheap.

* Zocalo (mentioned above) has wonderful sangria. ...but of course it is in Arlington.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

No offense intended, David--based on your blog and comments, I really never knew you were from Arlington. (Your profile says "Boston area.") I was really referring to "Anonymous" because I didn't know how far he/she had to go to get there. We go to Arlington a LOT, actually. Just went to Viet's Cafe a couple of days ago, in fact.

I like Taqueria Mexico, too, but God forbid you go on mariachi night--the place is too small for such loud instruments. :-) Food's good, though. My husband, in particular, loves that place.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Yum, I love that you give me such great recommendations. ;)

10:09 AM  
Anonymous barracuda said...

If you want to try much more authentic taquería food (and way better than Taquería Mexico) nearby, I'm ecstatic to report that we have a new place in Waltham that is way more tasty than Ixtapa (which to me was yet-another-mexican-themed-american restaurant, similar to Margaritas). The place is called the Hungry Coyote, and it's at the corner at the very end of the Moody St. restaurant row (ie: at the southern end) - on the "left hand side" if you are going from Lexington. There's even parking on the side street (where the 24hr minimart is)

Try the tacos de carnitas and al pastor, and if you really like mexican food, then try the lengua en salsa verde - I'm getting hungry just typing these words.

Based on all the comments here, I think you will enjoy it. My whole family did.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Alison Rose said...

Hungry Coyote certainly has an interesting backstory, though not all the best reviews or (this one) from local Mexican food fans. But I like to make up my own mind, so it sounds like it's worth a try--thanks for the tip.

BTW, I think Ixtapa is WAY better than Margaritas--I don't even compare them.

10:48 AM  

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