Mexican that meets expectations

Photo by Susan France

One sip of chai too many, and colleague Carin plunged into a caffeine-fueled burst of manic energy where she was seemingly channeling the obsessive Carrie Matheson from Homeland (or as I like to call it, “My So-Called War on Terrorism”). She was bouncing off the office walls. “Get your coat,” I barked, doing my best Saul Berenson. I’m no doctor, but I believed that prescribing a lunch of ethnic comfort food would get my friend’s feet back on the ground.


Our destination was 3 Margaritas, a self-described family Mexican restaurant that’s part of a Colorado-centric chain. It’s located at the intersection of 28th and Iris in Boulder, in what used to be the Sol Azteca Mexican eatery. Those with longer memories may also recall this venue as the erstwhile home of Coco’s, a slightly more upscale Denny’s with better baked goods.

3 Margaritas maintains much of the lively color scheme of Sol Azteca, augmented by efficient, low-key and well-dressed servers — Carin felt their ties added a touch of class. The lunch menu here shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever set foot in a Mexican-American restaurant as there’s plenty of combo plates with various permutations of enchiladas, tacos and burritos.

As we perused the bill of fare, our fresh, crisp tortilla chips arrived with a bowl of thin tomato salsa with peppery accents. It didn’t particularly stand out as salsas go, but it seemed par for the course for reasonably priced family Mexican — I didn’t expect much more.

Returning to the menu, I couldn’t help but reflect on the comforting familiarity of such offerings as carnitas and asada. Then it struck me like a diamond bullet, that these combo lunches were the Latino equivalent of the Chinese-American midday special. Swap out chips and salsa for egg rolls, rice and beans for fried rice, and pollo asado for sesame chicken, and conceptually, you’ve got the same meal! Now you all have an idea of how unexciting my life can be.

Carin inquired about a fair number of gluten-free choices and the staff was more than willing to accommodate special requests. In the end, though, she decided to throw caution to the wind and order up the non-gluten-free $8.75 chicken mole. Adhering to the classic presentation template, it came with refried beans rendered silky by fat and winningly textured rice. While the complex, earthy sauce, with its tones of cinnamon and chocolate, was sweeter than usual, Carin was still content with this complement to tender, bite-size slices of chicken.

Likewise, my $8.45 plate of chile verde came sided with the workhorse beans and rice. While the spicing wasn’t mouth-searingly hot, the green chile’s subtle fruit flavor nicely stood up to the hefty chunks of pork. It was also a fine foil to the piping-hot stack of corn tortillas that accompanied the meal.

By meal’s end, in no small part due to the restorative properties of chicken mole, Carin had returned to a semblance of her normal self, much less frenetic and much less Claire Danes-esque. While 3 Margaritas didn’t stake any new claims regarding Mexican fare, what we had, like a plate of sesame chicken, was predictable, reliable and reasonably priced. And sometimes there’s no better simple lunch prescription than that.

3 Margaritas is located at 3390 28th St., Boulder. Call 303-998-1234.