Loud cheers for the Wolf
It seems unfair to size up a restaurant before its big opening, with Howling Wolf Taqueria preparing to celebrate its official ribbon-cutting at 1 p.m. Thursday, but this place was ready for us. The food is already good. The atmosphere is already homey. The employees are already nice.
We arrived late on a recent weeknight, surprised that at 9 p.m. the place would be open for another two hours, and that there were still customers socializing and snacking. Inside the casual and expansive dining space were tables of students and grown-ups, and a few folks at the full-service bar.
We quickly noticed that Howling Wolf has a split personality. On one hand, it’s a counter-service taqueria where you order food at the register and find someplace to sit. On the other hand, it’s a real bar, where you can get tasty drinks and a number of wines, and with an almost date-like atmosphere. We liked that the place melded a nightlife, restaurant vibe with casual dining. We felt like we were treating ourselves even though we were paying fast-food prices.
We started with the guacamole and chips. Not much to speak of, but solid for the price ($4.50). It would make a good snack during a Salem State study break.
A must-order is the soup. We asked for it on a whim, but it wound up being the highlight of the meal. Technically, the vegetarian posole ($6) is stew, best described as a lot of random stuff in a bowl. Howling Wolf’s version included hominy, big carrots, a massive potato, crisp onion, cabbage, and a slice of avocado that tasted divine soaked in the red chile broth. This one will be a hit in winter.
We couldn’t settle on a single taco variety, so we opted to sample three. I recommend ordering as many as you can. Our favorite was the fish taco ($3), fresh haddock topped with a white poblano and jalapeno sauce. I loved that it didn’t taste like a big pile of fried batter. The carne Colorado ($2.50) was tender meat marinated in a sweet and spicy chile sauce. The chicken taco ($2.50) was the most basic of the three, but still good. Three tacos made a hearty meal for one person. Two would have satisfied.
The least memorable dish was the chicken quesadilla, which isn’t to say it wasn’t good. It was just standard, totally acceptable for the price ($6.75). For the sauce, we chose “Christmas,’’ mainly because of the festive name. It is drawn from the holiday colors of its red and green chiles, but it’s as spicy as Cinco de Mayo. If you’re a mild sauce person, it’s still worth ordering, but tame it with some sour cream and guacamole.
We dealt with the spice by sipping from glasses of red and white sangria. Fans of sweet should order the white. The red is just as good but has a bite to it.
What’s most notable about Howling Wolf is the atmosphere. With its bright colors and room to move around, it would serve a family well during the day. The prices and wireless Internet make it comfortable for college students. And the bar, its cozy booth, and the original paintings on the walls make it suitable for groups of friends and couples on dates.
The Wolf should serve the city well.