Simple, down-to-earth cooking
by Johnette Rodriguez
948 Atwells Avenue, Providence, 331-4985
Open Tues-Thurs, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat, 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Sun, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
No credit cards
If the east end of Atwells Avenue is Providence's Little Italy, then the west
end is definitely a Latino enclave, including a Dominican diner, several
Spanish markets, a Guatemalan restaurant and a Mexican restaurant called,
simply, Mexico. Run by Pepe Garibaldi and his family for the past 12 years,
Mexico is popular with students, neighborhood residents and anyone who is
seeking Mexican food that is not Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex or otherwise Ameri-Mex.
In 1997, Mexico moved from its original location, which had six tables and
long lines out the door, to a larger space just a block away, more than
tripling its seating capacity. The decor has brightened considerably, with two
shades of coral on woodwork and walls, and large, colorful representations of
traditional Mexican-Indian gods and heroes painted directly on the walls. There
are also serape-like curtains and a Spanish-language jukebox.
Though English-speaking staff are scarce, a quick glance at the menu is
reassuring. Many items, such as burritos and tacos, sound familiar, and
translations are provided for all items. Previous visits to Mexico introduced
us to horchata ($1), a refreshing drink often made from crushed almonds, though
Mexico's version is sweet rice milk, tinged with cinnamon. We each sipped a
glassful while we contemplated the menu.
Mexico offers many variations of burritos, tacos, quesadillas and tostadas,
plus 10 "main dishes," none above $8. With nine of these, you get a generous
plate of rice, beans, salad and warm tortillas -- although with the fajitas de
pollo there are no rice or beans. Four of the dishes are beef, including one
that is pork, another that is barbequed goat, and tongue with tomatoes and
Never one to pass up a challenge, my dining partner picked out a goat burrito
($2.50) and was thoroughly pleased with the size and seasonings of his dish. A
large flour tortilla encased the shredded goat meat, along with beans, lettuce
and sour cream.
He also ordered chicken tamales in red sauce ($4.50) and was again overwhelmed
by the large portion. The steamed masa harina (corn flour) casing of the three
tamales had turned orange from spices and sauce (though not hot spices) and it
surrounded a stuffing of flavorful shredded chicken.
I chose chiles rellenos ($6.50) from the main dishes, in this case one
substantial poblano pepper stuffed with mild white cheese. The whole pepper is
then egg-battered and lightly fried. At Mexico, it is served with a delicious
red sauce atop the pepper, plus tasty pinto beans and rice (the latter perked
up with corn niblets), a salad with plenty of cilantro and lime, and a basket
of warm tortillas. It was all quite delicious and satisfying.
I had looked forward to the flan for dessert, but it was a Sunday evening, and
our waitress told us it had been a busy weekend, and the flan was sold out.
Another weekend specialty listed in the menu is menudo y pozole, an aromatic
soup made from tripe and hominy.
Other favorites from past visits have been the mushroom, zucchini or potato
quesadillas, the seasoned ground pork tacos and the tongue gorditas (a thick
hand-made tortilla). The fajitas are also excellent: fork-tender bits of
chicken that are marinated in a spicy lime marinade before being grilling
alongside peppers, onions and tomatoes.
And don't miss the low-key nachos, listed as chips ($1) or chips with beans
and cheese ($2.50). Modest though they may be, these thick, crispy triangles of
corn tortilla sit atop a warm, soupy bed of mashed pintos and respond
marvelously to the red and green sauces on the table (the green is
significantly hotter). Eventhe deluxe version is sprinkled with white cheese,
not drowned in a sea of orange.
These chips are emblematic of Mexico's down-to-earth cooking: no-nonsense,
straightforward flavors, nothing fancy or nouvelle, just the basic ingredients,
simmered and seasoned as they were, no doubt, in the kitchen of Pepe's
grandmother. Just think tamales instead of chicken soup. ?