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A Mexican bistro with flair — and no burritos

Acitrón's dining room is small but sophisticated. Acitrón's dining room is small but sophisticated. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
Globe Staff / July 6, 2011

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Not a single burrito or taco or chimichanga appears on the menu at Acitrón Mexican Bistro. Purists will balk because the chef (who is from Mexico City) sometimes inserts a very un-Mexican fish, like cod, into a Mexican dish. Or he adds an unusual ingredient - tamarind - to a traditional Mexican sauce like mole.

But this restaurant, which opened this spring, is a creative take on Mexican, with New England ingredients and a Parisian air to its name. This creative take on Mexican cuisine reminds us how much the country’s food varies by region. In the same location, servers at Rio Brazilian Barbeque once carried around skewered meat. The place has been renovated into a small but sophisticated dining room with a small bar beneath pendant lights.

Our server starts the meal by bringing us homemade corn chips and salsa, and though the chips are a little soft, the next batch, with the guacamole we order (pricey at $10) are excellent. Sopes surtido ($7.50), three hand-shaped little corn disks with raised sides, each holding a different topping, are one of our favorite appetizers. Potato and Mexican chorizo is the best, though the shredded chicken is also good. Cactus salad, with mild cotija cheese, is beautiful but bland. Aguacate relleno de ensalada is perfect for a hot day, but the tiny shrimp are nearly tasteless and the cilantro sparse.

Crepas de rajas poblanas ($14.95) are thick crepes stuffed with grilled strips of poblano peppers, corn, yellow squash, and zucchini and topped with a creamy spinach sauce. The dish is so large that it doesn’t come with the two sides awarded to most entrees, an interesting range of vegetables and rice. Although the crepes are a bit dense, the vegetables are fresh and tender. Pollo relleno en mole verde ($17.95), a Mexican version of stuffed chicken, is from the Yucatán. The chicken breast is tender and filled with asparagus and huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn and is less appetizingly known as corn smut.

We love camarones en mole de tamarindo ($19.95), a blend of shrimp and a thick, sweet sauce served over small pieces of cornbread. The tamarind mole is the highlight of the dish, and although Acitrón owner Gotu Hule notes proudly that every dish has a different sauce, we wouldn’t mind another chance to try this one again. One of the sides, elote - a half-ear of corn on the cob rolled in cheese and spices - is excellent. Hule’s wife runs Tango, the Argentinian restaurant across the street, and Acitrón’s most expensive entree, filete sonorense ($24.95) from Mexico’s northern border, is reminiscent of Tango’s beef-heavy menu.

Desserts include four flavors of ice cream, and the best is cajeta ($2.50 for a scoop), a coffee-colored concoction made from caramelized milk. Not traditional, maybe, but we don’t mind.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

ACITRÓN MEXICAN BISTRO

473 Massachusetts Ave.,

Arlington, 781-777-2839, acitronrestaurant.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $7.25-$10. Salads $7.25-$8.25. Entrees $14.95-$24.95.

Hours Mon-Thu 5-10 p.m.;

Fri 5 -11 p.m.; Sat 11 a.m.-

2:30 p.m. and 5-11 p.m.; Sun

11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.

Liquor Full bar.

May we suggest Sopes surtidos, crepas de rajas poblanas,

camarones en mole de tamarindo, pollo relleno en mole verde, cajeta ice cream.

Ratings

  • 4 Stars Extraordinary
  • 3 Stars Excellent
  • 2 Stars Good
  • 1 Star Fair
  • No Stars Poor