Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Reviewing a new restaurant is always a tricky thing: Base an opinion off of a place's first week and often times things change so much that the review becomes worthless; wait too long, though, and folks lose interest. With a place like Mamacita's on Kavanaugh, we figured that a quick stop right after they opened was in order given the location's history of easy-come, easy-go eating joints, but after a sub-par meal we decided to give the place a chance to get its legs under it and correct some of the glaring issues that put a damper on our first visit. The good news? It's definitely made strides in terms of the poor service and hopelessly misspelled menus we encountered on our first visit. The bad news is that the food still remains bad to mediocre with nothing that makes much of an impression.
Our first visit to Mamacita's was a comedy of errors: a wait staff that seemed friendly but unprepared for business, salsa so salty as to be almost inedible and a kitchen staff that didn't make the food quite as it was described on the menu. There were some glaring problems with the food. The heavy-handedness with the saltshaker extended to our entrees, with the grilled flavor of our carne asada and chorizo tacos ($3.25 each) being overwhelmed completely by salt. Beyond that, though, there just wasn't a lot going on with either dish. Furthermore, having requested the tacos be served with just onions and cilantro, there wasn't a single bit of onion to be found (although the cilantro was nice and fresh). Our dining companion's chicken burrito ($11.99) wasn't much better — the chicken was cooked well, but the overall plate was far too salty. In addition, the queso poured over the top of the burrito was thin and watery, adding very little to the overall dish.
Our second visit had us in the mood to split some nachos, so we went for the nachos al carbon with beef. The portion of these nachos was easily big enough for two people, with crisp tortilla chips drenched in a queso that this time wound up being the highlight of the meal. The nachos were covered with strips of fajita beef, grilled onions, refried beans, and a few grilled tomatoes. The onions and tomatoes were nicely cooked and added some good flavor to the nachos, but the beef, while plentiful, was tough and lacked any real flavor, and the refried beans might well have not even been on the dish, as they suffered from this same lack of seasoning and added nothing to the overall flavor profile.
We paired our nachos with a plate of chicken taquitos ($7.99), and the resulting plate was easily the worst thing we ate on either trip. The taquitos consisted of dry, completely flavorless chicken (a departure from the relatively tasty chicken from our first visit) wrapped in a corn tortilla and fried to an oily, slightly stale tasting finish. The plate looked huge at first glance, but closer inspection revealed four taquitos surrounded by a pile of mushy rice, iceberg lettuce, and a small helping of cheese and sour cream that did nothing to make these things edible. We've eaten better taquitos out of the frozen case at Kroger — and they were a lot cheaper than $2 each.
The most positive thing that we took away from our second visit was that some of the most egregious mistakes in service (and those misspelled menus) were corrected by the time we returned. Restaurants are works in progress, and we hope that Mamacita's can do some tweaking to their recipes in order to justify both their attractive location and relatively high price point. It's tough for us to leave a place and have nothing food-wise that entices us to return; Mamacita's managed to do that to us twice. The cuisine may improve and make the place a lasting fixture in the Heights, but as for now, the only thing we can say about the food there is that finally that area of town has a restaurant that can make even Browning's look gourmet.
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
All major CC, full bar.