|Fish tacos with good beans and rice|
Four years ago, my summary of Mexican restaurants topped out at Lily's Mexican Market in Columbia and El Azteca in Clarksville. Soon, I need to update that 2009 round-up, and I may need to declare two separate weight classes -- a super-casual range from R&R Taqueria to the under-construction expansion of Tere's Latin Market, then a heavy-weight class trying to go upscale.
At this point, the new Xitomate in Columbia may top that high-end market. You get a classy, trendy vibe. You start with thick, exceptional chips. You work through a menu full of unusual items like huitlacoche and churros. I enjoyed our first dinner, and our second meal was memorable even though we split a glorified snack of chips, ceviche, empanada, and tacos.
First, the kitchen really does interesting food. I loved the fish tacos, especially the warm corn tortillas that contrasted with spiciness of the salsa. Tilapia is a mild fish, and the tacos went subtle in a way that took skill -- fresh, sharp salsa and the earthiness of the corn tortilla, enough to show off fish that was cooked moist.
Xitomate's flavors vary far more than your average Mexican place. A creamy sauce under the empanada. A sharp slickness of the ceviche. The marinated shrimp has a real taste of lime and a bite from onion. Forkfuls come with the crunch of onion and cucumbers. The high-end lettuce pushed into the bottom of the ceviche glass becomes a fiery salad, and I used the last of the beans to cool my mouth own.
You get all this in one of the nicer dining rooms in Howard County. It's still casual, and it still looks out on a parking lot. But it's a cool, modern design. Friendly for kids. Classy enough for a date.
I do want to re-write the 2009 series where I first tried to summarize food around Howard County. That series was so long ago that Blogger didn't offer pages, and I "hid" the description of the entire series by dating in January 1, 2008. What would you suggest for Mexican -- the restaurants and the favorite dishes?