For some reason, it is really difficult to find a good Mexican restaurant around here – at least not the way I remember Mexican through the experience of Monterrey in Columbia, South Carolina. But they are becoming increasingly popular, so we now have more options than Tito’s. Tito’s is okay, but it isn’t authentic the way it claims to be. The chips and salsa might be homemade but the chicken tastes like it was tossed with salsa in a crock pot. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that is how you make authentic Mexican chicken. This is more like it; that’s how arroz con pollo is made as well, which brings me to another point. Rice. Mexican rice must be cooked in tomato sauce and be very dry. If it tastes like this looks, it is wrong. But too many places make their rice this way – moist and seasonings and vegetables tossed in rather than cooked in. I couldn’t find a picture of decent rice; apparently it’s not just a local problem.
Fortunately, there are not just one, but two solutions in Southern New England on my radar so far. The first is El Tapatio in North Kingstown, RI. When I went on a weekday night, it was crowded with older well-to-do couples and young middle class families. Four adults and one child were with me and we received quick service. What also impressed me was the attentiveness given to my 2-year-old son. An ample pile of extra napkins, for example, were brought out without any prompting on my part. I dislike having to ask for more napkins at a restaurant, only to have them forgotten, not brought on time, or not brought in sufficient quantities. (Two, really? You think by extra napkins, I mean 2? How expensive are these napkins, that you have to be that stingy? Now I feel like an inconsiderate slob if I ask you yet again for more napkins.) While I’m on the subject of being child-friendly, how expensive is it to buy bendy straws? Now compare that to how necessary they are. Have you ever seen how impossible it is for a child to drink from a straw from a cup on a table without bending it? Unless it is a bendy straw, it doesn’t really work. And crayons. Crayons that have been in another child’s mouth and on the floor brought out in a cup is gross. How do I know this? Because when you get the crayons back, they are gross from being in MY child’s mouth and HIM throwing them on the floor. Give me a fresh pack of those cheap crayons. Thy don’t just come in fours; they also come in two’s for the more frugal restaurants.
Where was I? Ah, yes. The food. First of all, the menu is way better than your average Mexican restaurant offering tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas and perhaps taco salad and something made-up, like fataco, which is probably redundant. How to tell, in my opinion, if you have a good Mexican restaurant on your hands is if the menu includes chicken mole. (Yes, that is my favorite dish.) Mexican cuisine rarely features cheese, so you need at least a few cheese-less dishes on the menu!
I did indeed get the chicken mole from El Tapatio and it was good, but let’s face it – how can you go wrong with chocolate? So let’s focus on the side dishes. Coleslaw was surprising but good, the refried beans were homemade and – now the important one – the rice was perfect! That sealed the deal for me and I’d definitely return.
Your second option to excellent Mexican cuisine is Fiesta Mexican Restaurant in Swansea, MA, a smaller, more casual restaurant that offers take-out. I visited again on a weekday night, later in the evening. My son and I weren’t the only diners in the restaurant and there was only one waitress so I was a little nervous (If you had a countdown to when your toddler reached knife-throwing levels of boredom, you’d be nervous, too.) but our order was taken immediately. And although I had to leave my table to ask the host for another coloring placemat, he was happy to accommodate with not just one, but two. You bet I also noted the crayons were a box of four and he brought another one of those, too – just in case, you know, my toddler bit them in half or threw them in some obscure corner under the table, as he is wont. However, this did not happen because our food arrived so quickly. The kitchen staff turned out our meals quicker than we could finish our chips and salsa.
I ordered the burrito loco with chicken and though it wasn’t Mexican chicken per say, it was chopped grilled chicken, which, frankly, I’d rather have in place of watery shredded chicken. The vegetables were still a little crisp, which was satisfying, and the sauces were fun. Enchilada sauce lay on top of one side of the burrito, tomatillo salsa on the other, and queso in the middle. Yum! The sides of rice and beans were almost identical to that of El Tapatio, the lettuce was crisp, the tomato was ripe and the sour cream was cleverly placed in a fried tortilla cup to keep it from melting.
Speaking of melting, fried ice cream must be so difficult to do at home, which is why I love a Mexican restaurant that serves it! Fiesta serves its fried ice cream with not just whipped cream and chocolate drizzle on top but whipped cream and chocolate drizzle garnishes on the side. It impresses me that a small restaurant, not specializing in desserts, would take this effort. Also, the honey caramel sauce is the best I’ve ever had. Even though it’s more out of my way, I’d definitely return here, too.