Mexican and American flavors often blend together in this solid new, family-friendly restaurant
Cinco de Mayo, which is Saturday, isn't actually celebrated much in Mexico. As you've undoubtedly noticed, though, the pseudo-holiday has become a trendy excuse for people in America to whoop it up, come springtime, in quasi-south-of-the-border-style. This makes Tomatillos Authentic Mexican — a Mexican eatery that caters to American tastes — a thematically compatible place to visit on the fifth of May.
At Tomatillos, you'll find such current American restaurant mainstays as the rice-bowl entree, the complete-meal salad and the fusion taco. And you'll find this ubiquitous fast-casual routine: Order at a counter where you're assigned a number; locate an open table; wait for food.
Occupying a simple but sizeable and lively space with high ceilings, Tomatillos offers padded brown booths and banquettes jazzed up by accents painted in the Mardi Gras color scheme of purple, gold and green. After finding a seat in the modern dining room — or the full-service bar — patrons are presented with a little bucket of thin, just-fried tortilla chips. These should be enjoyed with DIY accessories from the salsa bar in the rear of the restaurant.
There, you'll find multiple condiments and pickled chilies, though just a few seemed to be house made. My favorites were the tangy, not-incendiary “hot” salsa with pleasant roasted-pepper flavor, and the fresh-tasting, tomato-based chip salsa. That white stuff called “salsa blanca?” It's basically ranch dressing.
Your best adult beverage options: Six Mexican beers are on tap ($4.50 per pint) and there's an even wider selection of bottled Mexican beers ($4). Craving a cocktail? The middling lime margarita ($5.50) is a better pick than the potent, overpriced and misnamed “Perfect Margarita” ($15).
More than a dozen different tacos ($2.50 to $3) are available. Most are distinct and double-wrapped in warm soft corn tortillas. Among these is an OK fish taco with chopped and griddled cod, and a much better taco starring two butterflied, plump and sweet grilled shrimp. Both have creamy, bittersweet and mildly spicy notes from an interesting slaw fashioned with red cabbage and broccoli playing off house chipotle sauce.
House coleslaw also graces the pretty good Pollo Loco taco. So does tangy “guacamole spread” and, curiously, feta rather than Cotija cheese.
Have you ever thought that fajitas resemble cheesesteak fillings minus queso sauce? The folks at Tomatillos have, and they've brought the elements together in a flour tortilla. Even if such culinary ruminations are outside your purview, you'll still enjoy the Mexican Cheese Steak taco.
For a crowd-pleaser that's more traditional, try the delicious barbacoa taco: pot roast-style meat bathed in zippy chili broth and garnished with onions, plus cilantro.
Sometimes, though, items featured nicely seasoned, flavorful meats that arrived somewhat dry. This would describe my Buckeye taco (carne asada, good chorizo, grilled pineapple) and “street-style” carnitas pork taco.
Dry would likewise describe the red-tinted chicken strands in my Baja Mex Salad ($9). The good-tasting meat is teamed with soupy black beans, fresh lettuce, corn, tomatoes, ranch dressing and cheese in a moderate-sized, not-bad ensemble.
The Tomatillos Rice Bowl ($9) with firm steak strips is a more flavorful combo. Flattering the beef are queso, a few lima beans, rice and most of the aforementioned salad vegetables.
But the best fusion bowl offered is the simple but gratifying Queso, Chicken & Broccoli entree ($9), which includes uncredited corn. Mexican rice and cheese sauce make harmonious partners for broccoli and seared meat, and this likeable melange delivers both comfort and healthful vegetables.
So while everything isn't perfect, there's plenty to enjoy here. Want more? Tomatillos is connected to a branch of the terrific Diamonds Ice Cream. Savoring a Diamonds house paleta — an intense Mexican-style ice pop rife with actual fruit — can make any day seem like a holiday.