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Down Mexico way 

Mexico Lindo is good, Liz Feltham says, but good and authentic aren't quite the same thing.

Although a perennial favourite of Coast readers in the annual Best of Food poll (vote now!), I’ve never dined at Mexico Lindo. Not for any particular reason, I’ve just never had it on my radar. But after years of “Best of” awards, plenty of good publicity and some recent renovations to the dining area, I’ve decided to see what I’ve been missing.

Mexico Lindo is a small, very casual restaurant. Inside, we find handful of tables, a few bench seats and a booth across from the door in which owner Wilson Jenkins stands, welcoming guests like family and greeting everyone warmly. (His wife, Ana, is from Mexico; she’s the chef.)

We wedge ourselves in a tiny table and nibble on the tortilla chips and fabulous homemade salsa provided, and peruse the short menu. Our server brings us a jug of agua fresca ($5.99), the traditional Mexican drink of “fresh water” with fruit; this particular version is light and refreshing, a perfect way to quench the fire of the salsa.

Mexico Lindo trumpets “the real Mexican taste” and the “only authentic Mexican food in Halifax,” and while this is not entirely inaccurate, most of the menu seems to be comprised of Tex-Mex dishes. These dishes originated in the southwestern US when northern Mexican working class food merged with cowboy fare. Dishes attributed to “Tex-Mex” include familiars like enchiladas, hard-shell tacos, chimichangas and burritos.

“Authentic” is a word that, used to define a cuisine, is up for interpretation. My own standard of authenticity is when a) the origin of the dish is commonly accepted as being from a particular place and b) it is prepared using ingredients native to that place. (Authentic does not equal quality—every culinary culture has its share of good cooks and bad. Quality is judged separately.)

To me, the menu is not purely authentic. This is a disappointment, as I was hoping to sample something completely different, perhaps a mole (sauce made with chocolate), or a fish dish from a coastal region.

With recommendations from our server, we settle on a chicken quesadilla ($5.49), a chimichanga platter ($9.95) and a beef burrito platter ($9.95). The quesadilla is a large tortilla, well stuffed with chicken, lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese. Both the chimichanga and burrito plates come with frijole refritos (commonly translated as “refried beans,” actually “well-fried” beans) and Mexican rice. The beans are the best version I’ve tasted, smooth and flavourful; the rice has a bold snap that makes the mouth pay attention. Chimichangas are burritos fried until brown, then filled, in this case with chicken, tomato and onion. The burrito has beans, beef, salsa, cheese and lettuce, baked under a mantle of cheese. Both are delicious, but I especially like the tenderness of the beef. Too often, beef burritos are filled with inedible strips of tough meat, but that is definitely not the case here.

If there’s one word I can use to sum up the food, it’s fresh. Everything, from the salsa to the agua fresca to the tortilla shells, tastes as if it was made on the spot just for our table.

There is no dessert available, but with the way the food is piled high on our plates, there really is no need.

If you’re looking for a refined taste of Mexico like nothing else in Metro, you won’t find it here. But if you want a satisfying homestyle meal, cheap, fresh food, in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, this is your place.

Mexico Lindo3635 Dutch Village Road445-0996Tue-Fri 12:30-2pm, 4-8:30pmSat 12-8:30pmSun, Mon closed

Liz Feltham says “Olé” on the web: www.foodcritic.ca

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