Route 9, Ballston Spa, 581-5901. Serving Mon-Fri 11:30-10,
Sat 3-10, Sun 4-10. AE, MC, V.
Mexican and Spanish
price range: $12 (Flautas Mexicanas) to $28 (Langosta
Although mariachi bands continue to thrive, the origin
of the word itself is obscure. Once thought to derive from
the French word for marriage (noting the use of a mariachi
ensemble at such events), it’s now believed to refer to
a native term for guitar wood or even a different celebratory
Which makes the word a good pick for a Mexican restaurant
that offers a variety of regional fare as well as a selection
of Spanish appetizers and entrées. It’s a successful enough
combination that this is the restaurant’s third area location.
Not far from Saratoga, it opened about a year ago.
The original El Mariachi opened at 62 Central Ave. almost
exactly 10 years ago; it moved a few blocks down to 144 Washington
Ave. several years ago. Meanwhile, El Mariachi II had
opened in Albany’s Robinson Square; this is also when Spanish
dishes were added to the menu.
It has proven a successful enough mix that the same menu,
at least to the best of my recollection, is offered at the
Ballston Spa location. It couldn’t be easier to find, by the
way: Almost as soon as you leave the Northway on exit 13N,
you’ll see it on the right—it’s what used to be the Packhorse
Restaurant. After a facelift and with the addition of Mexican
decor, it has the cheerful look of a neighborhood eatery that
just happens to feature a more exotic menu. Based on the good
business they’re doing, it’s working.
As an alternative to the taco houses that pass for Mexican
restaurants, this place is superb. You’ll find nachos and
tamales, burritos and chimichangas on the menu, and I’m sure
they’re tasty—but why bother? There’s so much more here to
From the start (meaning, back in the early days of the Central
Avenue Mariachi), it’s been a family oriented business. Started
by siblings Marco, Patty and Cesar Bermejo, it has always
featured food from their native city of Puebla, credited with
the invention of mole poblano, a sauce of chocolate
You’ll find it among the entrées as part of a chicken dish,
and the versatile chicken is also available simmered in a
pumpkin-seed sauce (pipian de pollo), sautéed with
garlic and jalapeños (à la Mexicana), in a sauce of
Oaxacan cheese and sour cream (pollo San Marco), and,
as pollo chipotle, in a stew with tomatoes, onions,
cilantro and smoked jalapeños (each en trée is $15).
I sampled the last-named, and it exemplified what I discovered
while tasting other dishes. An exciting mix of flavors permeates
the generous portion, with the heat of the chipotles adding
a delayed boost to the tart sweetness of the tomato-based
sauce. What’s missing is a small component that spreads the
flavor throughout the palate—the part that’s typically (and
unimaginatively) filled by salt. Certainly I praise the chef
for not oversalting the dish, but I’d be happier still if
the flavors were more kinetic.
You can’t say that the kitchen is inconsistent, however. This
was true of an appetizer, gambas al ajillo ($9), from
the tapas menu, a Spanish dish offering sautéed shrimp in
a garlic-laced broth with tomato about it. Served with a small
loaf of bread (for mopping purposes), it sported the garlic’s
spiciness but seemed reluctant to offer flavor in other directions.
I had no such reservation about the crema de elote poblano
($4.50), a not-too-thick corn chowder set off with poblano
peppers and sour cream, a kind of meal-in-itself concoction
that warms everything inside you.
Because I’m a sausage enthusiast, I also ordered an appetizer
of quesadillas with a chorizo stuffing ($8).
Oaxacan cheese and the lively salsa known as pico de gallo
also fill out the tortilla sandwich, but the homemade
sausage steals the show with an intense, smoky characteristic.
pibil ($15) is a kind of braised pork dish in which the
meat first marinates in a mix of orange juice and achiote
seed paste, adding zest to the tenderized pork. It’s a
big, satisfying plate, but, again, I was looking for a more
over-the-top flavor. Entrées are served with Mexican rice
and black beans, and I guarantee you’ll be taking part of
it home if you start with any appetizers.
Entrées also feature various preparations of beef, veal, pork
and seafood, with separate sections for grilled items, such
as the sizzling fajitas platters, and Spanish dishes,
which are the costliest ($19-$28) and include a seafood-rich
paella as well as a couple of lobster-based concoctions.
Nearly a dozen vegetarian items give a generous choice of
what should be some tasty meat alternatives, using vegetables,
beans, cheese and the various sauces in creative ways.
A tray of outsourced cakes supplements traditional items like
flan and rice pudding, but my mango margarita was dessert
enough. Service is quick, but you’re dependent upon a crew
of younger servers whose enthusiasm level varies. Nevertheless,
it was an enjoyable, comfortable alternative to dining in
busy downtown Saratoga, and I’ll be more than happy to visit
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
shows off its work-in-progress Little Italy at
La Piccola Italia, the first annual
Little Italy Street Fest, which will be held from
1 to 8 PM Saturday (Sept. 9). The recently redeveloped
area (on North Jay Street just north of Union
Street) has long been popular with those seeking
homemade Italian ice (and now gelato) at Civitello’s,
or to seek out the hard-to-find loaves of Perreca’s
famous bread. It’s also where an expanded Cornell’s
Restaurant recently relocated. The event includes
a full schedule of music, the Doc & Rick Magic
Show, a homemade wine competition, face painting
and more, but the real star of the show, of course,
will be food. From anisette to zeppoles,
you’ll savor all the delicacies that make Italian
cuisine such a favorite. Among the offerings:
grilled fruit, peaches in wine, rice balls, salt-and-pepper
biscuits, greens and beans, panini, ziti, meatballs,
fried dough, fried calamari, sausage and peppers,
and much, much more. The event is free and open
to the public. . . . Remember to pass your scraps
to Metroland (e-mail: email@example.com).
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..