Monday, September 3, 2018

Veracruz Mexican Grill:

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I was craving Mexican one night (spoiler alert, this is pretty much my constant state) and the city of Cincinnati was in the middle of a crazy heat wave punctuated by impressive thunderstorms. We weren't about to venture out anywhere on foot, so you know what that means: delivery. But where-oh-where would we find authentic, home-style Mexican fare that could be delivered to our doorstep?

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Enter Veracruz. Thirty minutes and one UberEats order later, we were enjoying some of the best refried beans and tacos in town, and we knew that we had to make the trip to the actual restaurant so we could try more of the menu.

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There was just uno teeny problemo. Veracruz is on the West Side.

Let me preface this to say that I don’t have any hate for the West Side as a whole. There’s lots of neat things on the West Side. Creamy whips, chili parlors, great views from the Incline Public House. West Side people are cool. I don’t know if West Side is “best side” but it’s certainly not the worst side. I’m not super fond of Rapid Run park, which is a hilly hellacious bear of a 5K course that I still remember struggling through from my high school cross country days, but I can deal. Here’s my beef with the West Side.

It’s impossible to navigate.

Downtown Cincinnati (like most cities) is a grid. Not so with the West Side. The West Side map is made up of a series of random streets which make hardly any sense that loop, curve and (sometimes) intersect with no rhyme or reason, topped by no left turns allowed exactly when you need them most. You can’t get anywhere in a straight line, and once you’re lost, good luck trying to find your way back, you’ll just end up driving hopelessly in one direction without any way to turn around. One afternoon a few years ago we had to navigate by the sun to try and get out. THE SUN. When I find myself on the viaduct and emerge on the other side, I swear I see the triple moons ala Land of the Lost. The West Side is Cincinnati’s version of Hotel California. You can visit any time you like, but you can never leave.

But some things are worth the trip; Veracruz is one of them. We’ve been twice (and have been lazy and ordered delivery two times as well) now and have been impressed each time.

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So many tasty choices

Our first visit, we ordered some drinks, the choriqueso, taquitos and cochinita pibil. The cheese dip at Veracruz is a bit thinner than at some of the other restaurants we’ve been to, which is not a bad thing - it makes it less salty and it doesn’t set up into glue as it cools down. I actually like it cold the next day out of the fridge with their flaky corn chips almost as much as when it is fresh. They also are kind of stingy with the portion sizes of the dip (read: if you have a group, get a double order), which is silly because we all know it’s Extra Melt, which is sold in five-pound blocks.

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More queso por favor

The restaurant’s semi-open kitchen is right there when you walk in, and there’s the matriarch of the family running a tight ship with a notebook and a clipboard. It's very clear that Veracruz does not cut corners. Service each time has been friendly and fast.

My taquitos were stuffed with delicious, flavorful and tender chicken, served with traditional rice and excellent refried beans. David’s cochinita pibil made for a wonderful taco he assembled. Cochinita pibil is somewhat of a rarity around here, so it’s fantastic that it is on Veracruz’s menu.  It wasn't perfect (a bit dry) but fortunately that meant we didn't have to shoot the cook.

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Our second trip (which we made without getting lost!) we were a bit more adventurous. There were two of us, we decided. Why not go for the gold with the “Monster Margarita?”

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The couple that tries to drink "Forty Ounces of Fun", gets a stomach ache together?

I opted for the chicken tostada and a carnitas taco, because when in a Mexican restaurant, always get something with carnitas. The chicken was the same juicy, seasoned variety that was in my taquitos, and it did not disappoint on the crunchy, just-fried tostada. As for the carnitas, well, let’s just say Veracruz does them as well as they do all their menu items - the simple traditional carnitas taco is a knockout.

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David ordered the steak norteño platter which features nopalitos (cactus strips).  Tasty flank steak combined with the nopalitos produced a steak-and-peppers-like combo that made great DIY tacos with flour tortillas.

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So, what of the monster margarita, you may ask? Well, David and I are not ones to back down from a boozy challenge, but the combination of the volume, sugar and the fact that we were also busy stuffing our faces with delicious food from Veracruz meant that we had to throw in the towel on the margarita. It happens. Sometimes when you go hard or go home, you end up going home. Take it from us - this is a drink for a group of three or four. 

David and I have carefully documented how to get to Veracruz turn by turn, and I can even run there (about three miles from downtown) so you know we'll be back. Plus, rumor has it they have some great happy hour specials and an outdoor patio to enjoy before winter sets in.