Being new-ish to town, it’s always interesting to hear what longer-term Boulderites focus on when describing various restaurants. For example, the way BW editor Joel Dyer summarized Mamacita’s on University Hill: “burritos as big as your head.”
I, on the other hand, took notice of its seemingly multicultural approach to Mexican food, with decidedly American fried Snickers bars on the menu for dessert and jugs of Sriracha (Asian hot sauce) on the tables paired with the Incapyramid style seat backs in the booths. America is a melting pot and apparently so is Mamacita’s.
But a big part of that melting pot being in America is, of course, the need for there to be a giant, hideous television screen every single place you look. Mamacita’s is no different, with multiple flat screens positioned perfectly so that there is almost nowhere to sit without getting a faceful of attention-suck — a shame, as it is in glaring contrast to the rest of Mamacita’s interior design, which manages to balance the bright and pleasant atmosphere of large Mexican sitdowns with the intimacy of a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall.
However, unlike so many Americanized Mexican restaurants, Mamacita’s didn’t go too far beyond the fried Snickers and french fries to whiten up the menu. While not the best salsa this reviewer has ever had as an appetizer, it was worlds away from the flavorless chemical red near-ketchup that so many “Mexican” restaurants slop onto the table from some sort of can. It had chunks of tomato and onion and a hint of bite.
The menu is straight to the point, with nearly everything falling into the category of tacos, burritos, enchiladas or fajitas, all available with a veggie option — which, due to my dining companion’s recent dabblings in vegetarianism, was why we found ourselves seated across from one another looking above each other’s heads at the wall-mounted screens.
One item on the menu stuck out: a chicken mole verde plate. For the uninitiated, mole is a sort of chocolate and pepper gravy that is a solid barometer of a restaurant’s worth. But it’s brown. Very, very brown, and verde is green.
The server said the verde came from cilantro being incorporated into the sauce, which she said made it one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. So popular that after I ordered it, she had to return and say no mas, the mole verde was sold out at 1 p.m. on a Monday afternoon. So while as a critic I can’t tell you for sure that it’s any good, I can infer it from the evidence. Take that, Chef Sherlock.
Instead, I went for my other favorite Mexican food barometer, a chile relleno, with a pork taco on the side, and my dining companion went for a veggie fajita plate.
The chile relleno was a good ‘un, stuffing a poblano with cojita and batter-frying it like a champ. The egg batter was crisp and golden brown, and the whole shebang was doused in a spicy red sauce. The rice and beans on the side were nothing special, but I give a lot of leeway for a solid relleno. And the pork taco was great, with rich and smoky carnitas balanced by the tartness of pickled onions on top.
My dining companion’s veggie fajitas was a giant, sizzling skillet of well-seasoned veggies with rice, beans, guacamole and tortillas, a dish that didn’t seem to lose much without the meat.
We finished things off with one of the deep-fried Snickers, another dish that our server said frequently sells out. Was it authentic? Only if you’re going for a state fair in the Heartland. But it was melty and delicious and gone all too quickly. With dessert like that, this reporter can loosen his definitions a bit.
But all that said, as we were standing up to leave, I caught a glimpse of a man at a back table digging into his freshly arrived burrito. It was enormous.