An early taste of what's new on the restaurant scene
The press release went like this: "The All NEW Jose McIntyre's is Now Open!"
All new. We were excited.
To be honest, my friends and I had forgotten that Jose McIntyre's even served food. We had never heard anyone say "Let's stop for lunch at Jose McIntyre's!" or, "I'm craving a burger at Jose's!"
We had heard, "I met this girl last night at Jose McIntyre's," or "I drank too many beers at Jose McIntyre's."
But a pitch e-mailed to the Globe that contained the phrases "state of the art," "recreated . . . image," "totally new dining area," and "revamped Tex-Mex menu" got us riled up, so on a recent Friday, we stopped by for dinner.
Jose's was, in fact, new-and-improved. The old décor, specifically the wood-paneled walls, had always made us feel claustrophobic - trapped, in fact. But this updated design - which includes new floors, a renovated dining area, and bright flat-screens - has given Jose's a clean, chain-restaurant vibe.
When we arrived at about 8:30 p.m., most of the patrons were in the bar watching sports.
We sat in the back dining room, which we pretty much had to ourselves, and started with drinks and appetizers. The classic margarita tasted more like mixer than alcohol, and was too light on rim salt. Our second choice, a Corona, was a better deal.
For apps, we tried the salsa trio, the sliders, and a shrimp quesadilla.
The salsa trio was essentially a sampling of salsas (mango, tomatillo, and regular tomato) in tiny cups. We liked the chunky and sweet mango mix, but there wasn't much of it to go around.
The sliders were a disappointment. We were pretty sure the mini-burgers, all three of which were the exact same size and shape (flat and cookie-cutter round), weren't made-to-order. They were like the Steak-um plate we make at home.
We were more impressed with the shrimp quesadilla, which was greasy (in a good way) and packed with jack cheese and sliced avocado.
For entrees, we figured the best bets would be the tacos and fajitas (the place is called Jose's, after all), but we were wrong. Unlike the quesadilla, which was full to overflowing, the pork tacos were bare-bones - just three hard shells, each filled with a single small dollop of sweet, barbequed pork. No toppings. None.
Our server did bring us a small sampling of vegetables, cheese, and sour cream, but she told us it went with the fajita plate, which was a pretty average mix of meat served with soft tortillas.
For those dishes, we would have been better off (dare I say it) at Chili's.
It was at about this point that someone at a nearby table began playing the harmonica. Were we in prison?
Lifting the mood was my choice, a shrimp po' boy, which was a light mix of shrimp salad served on an average bun. It was tasty and cheap ($9), and makes for a fine after-work or lunch snack. We asked for a special side of sweet potato fries, which were on par with what you'd get at other taverns around the city.
Since one of us was celebrating a birthday, we ordered one of Jose's desserts, a small brownie torte. It was good enough - fancier and more rich than we would have expected.
As we paid the check, a new group of patrons - the Friday night crowd - began making its way into Jose's. Through the window, we could see high-heels, cigarettes left at the door, glittery tank tops, and Sox hats all around. The nightlife clientele didn't seem to be interested in eating and went straight upstairs to the second-floor dance hall, which, thanks to the remodeling, has new lights that flash to the beat of the music and a fancy DJ booth that used to be Jose's coat closet.
Those patrons had the right idea. It's the nighttime that Jose's does best.
Jose McIntyre's, 160 Milk St., Boston. 617-451-9460. Daily hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 9 p.m.). Appetizers: $4 to $9. Entrees: $8 to $16. Mixed drinks: $4 to $11. Beer by the bottle: $3 to $6. Wine by the glass: $6 to $7.
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgold email@example.com.