Surveying GLOB's Mexican lunch options
By: Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
I have had a serious hankering for Mexican food lately, so the last few weeks have been a blur of burritos, refried beans, and all the salsa I can scoop onto each crispy, and hopefully sturdy, tortilla chip at various restaurants.
How could I comment on one particularly satisfying lunch spot when there are so many notable places with, of course, a few notable dishes?
In fact, a check of the Urban GLOB's map shows there are 20restaurants serving Mexican cuisine in Gainesville.
Without further ado, however, I present the Gainesville Lunch Out Blog Eating Adventurer's handy go-to cheat sheet of top recommendations for when you find yourself craving Mexican fare that will be sure to entice a little fiesta of the taste buds, narrowed down to one item per location (in no particular order). Note: I am not including Chipotle, or Burrito Famous due to the conveyor line dining style, but this is not to say I don't love all three establishments' indulgent-sized burritos and bowls.
La Tienda: Torta
In all my years of Mexican food consumption, I have not once come across the torta as a menu option. Described on the website as a "Mexican sandwich" complete with mayonnaise, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, avocado and refried beans, your resident food adventurer, of course, had to try it. The torta's protein menu options were as diverse as the multiple tables of patrons that typically crowd La Tienda during the lunchtime rush. While the Torta Cubana sounded tempting and the Lengua Torta, also known as the beef tongue sandwich, sounded a tad too over-the-top for this hungry lunch-goer, it was the Campechano Torta with grilled steak, onions and Mexican chorizo that created a beautiful melding of flavors and textures. The tender yet firm steak was shrouded by chorizo crumbles in a sea of fillings. The quesadillas looked fair and the taco salad was a delight, but the pretty sizeable torta, with its savory, yet sturdy bread (something between an arepa and a sandwich) and overflowing fillings have proved a quality choice. It's also under $6, so anyone can try them all without breaking the bank.
Chuy's Mexican: Burrito and happy hour
This Mexican restaurant has a bevy of staple Mexican menu options with a Chuy's twist, from the Chuychanga to the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom enchiladas and much more. Part of the "full-osophy" that Chuy's emphasizes includes "Big As Yo Face" entrees, namely the burritos. Whether a bean and cheese, steak or, my personal favorite, the beef burrito, you can't go wrong. The meat is always flavorful and prepared well, served piping hot and delicately folded into a homemade flour tortilla that's always baked to that slightly crisped perfection. Even the Chuy's personalized items, including the signature green chile rice and creamy jalapeno sauce that I douse pretty much every order with, gives a unique Mexican experience to all the usual Mexican food items. Not to mention that happy hour every weekday from 4-7 pm includes a FREE nacho "car" and happy hour alcoholic beverages. It's a dangerously addictive combination: FREE beef, cheese and bean nachos with killer margaritas. The service is no slouch, either.
Linda Vista: Anything with steak
I was surprised on a recent visit to what I thought was Mexico Lindo in the Tower Square shopping center, as it has been transformed into Linda Vista after an ownership change, but boasting the "same great menu." It was a promising sign that many tables were full of satiated-looking customers being serenaded by a mariachi band. While my love of burritos and desire to find the best of my favorite dishes among local restaurants coerced me to order a beef burrito, my dining companion ordered one of the steak "Especialidades de la Casa" topped with jalapenos and served with refried beans, rice and guacamole salad. The only focal point here, though, is undoubtedly the steak: I was so surprised that such a thick-cut slab of meat at a Mexican restaurant was so tender and flavorful, as a thicker cut tends to provide a tougher chew. Even with a myriad of other customers, attention was paid to making this particular cut of steak pleasurable, and I was impressed.
Las Margaritas: A la carte
Las Margaritas located off of NW 43rd Street has proved itself to be one of Gainesville's go-to spots for Mexican fare. From the huge margaritas to the overwhelming number of choice-sounding menu items, it provides an option for everyone. As your resident food adventurer — admittedly an indecisive one — I could not select just one Mexican treat there. Luckily, the a la carte menu gives the opportunity to try a variety of options. The chicken dishes are typically my favorites, always seemingly of the highest quality in presentation and taste. Not to mention that depending on how many choices from the a la carte list you would like to dazzle your taste buds with, the prices for a three, four or five-choice meal is very reasonably priced, especially when Mexican food always seems to result in an exceptionally stuffed belly.