I’ve only been living in the Capital District for around nine years, and more than half of that time was what I like to call my starving college days, when I didn’t have a lot of time or money to travel around in search of good food. So to some extent, I feel like I’m always trying to catch up on finding all of the best places and sampling the “must-try dishes.” I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a number of local food enthusiasts and bloggers this past year that have more history in the region than I do, and one of the most valuable things I’ve gained from these friendships is precious tidbits of restaurant knowledge.
One of those repeat tidbits that I keep hearing from everyone is how great La Mexicana Grocery & Restaurant in Schenectady is. I’ve heard that not only is it some of the best and most authentic Mexican food around, but just about every new Mexican restaurant is judged by its standard. For instance, a new place might be worth a visit because the tacos are “almost as good as La Mexicana’s.”
But I have to admit that I was a little hesitant. I’ve had a lot of experience eating and loving Americanized Tex-Mex, but less so with more authentic Mexican fare. (side note: I’m using this term “authentic Mexican” to differentiate from Tex-Mex, but I fully realize that Mexico is a large place and regional cuisine varies significantly. I also fully realize that “authentic” is highly subjective. Bear with me for writing simplicity purposes.)
I was also hesitant because I recently tried the tacos at a new Mexican restaurant in Albany and truly disliked them. They were dry, overly packed with onions, and just not that enjoyable. So as much as I have been curious to try La Mexicana after so many laudatory comments from the local food crowd, part of me was worried that maybe more authentic Mexican food just isn’t for me.
After only a couple of bites of the tacos at La Mexicana, I am relieved to report back that yes, the food at this place is actually crazy delicious.
I ordered three tacos to sample some different meats, and added a side of rice and beans for a few dollars more. The tacos are small but cheap, and packed to the brim with filling. I ordered chicken, al pastor (marinated pork), and chorizo (but was given steak instead, which wasn’t worth protesting because it was delicious anyway). The toppings were a classic mix of cilantro and raw onion, along with some wedges of lime on the side.
I think what set these tacos apart from the others I recently tried was the perfectly prepared meat fillings. All three choices were juicy and well seasoned, and some of the pieces had a nice bit of char on the outside. I liked the chicken the best, but I would order all of these again in a heartbeat. The rice and beans were pretty standard, but still good.
We also ordered a plate of three steak sopes, which have a slightly thicker, fried corn flour base topped with refried beans, steak, lettuce, avocado, and crumbled cheese. They were also great, although a little on the dry side, which was easily remedied with one of two hot sauce varieties served tableside.
There are only two dessert options on the menu, but when you see Kahlua flan as a choice, I think you can just stop reading (for those that disagree, the other choice is tres leches cake). This was divine – light and creamy, not overly yolky like some flan can be, and just the right level of sweetness. A hard dish to share with your lunch date, if I’m being honest.
I’m glad the food at La Mexicana was able to convince me that I can and should venture beyond common Tex-Mex cuisine. There are quite a few other items that I am looking forward to trying on my next visit, including the tamales, quesadillas, tlayuda (some type of Mexican pizza), and maybe something that actually comes out with chorizo. I’d also love to spend some time perusing the attached Mexican grocery store.
I found La Mexicana to be a great value overall, with tacos and other meal components priced at only a few dollars each. Also worth noting – the complimentary tortilla chips were nothing special, but the salsa had a well rounded flavor and a great mid to high spice level. The only critiques I can really muster are that the tap water was very off-tasting and service bordered on being a little slow, but both are easy to look past given the strong quality of food being served.
Thanks to all for the solid advice on this one!