At the Table: Authentic, wonderful Mexican well worth the wait at Tequila’s in Niskayuna

Clockwise from bottom left: Homemade chips, salsa and guacamole; black beans and rice side; sizzling fajitas with a cheese quesadilla on top; and the colorful, upbeat interior including Frida Kahlo prints at Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill in Niskayuna.

Clockwise from bottom left: Homemade chips, salsa and guacamole; black beans and rice side; sizzling fajitas with a cheese quesadilla on top; and the colorful, upbeat interior including Frida Kahlo prints at Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill in Niskayuna.

If you like the food at La Mexicana, that tiny but authentic grocery and cafe on State Street in Schenectady, you’re going to love Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill in the ShopRite Plaza in Niskayuna.

The family that runs La Mexicana has taken over the LT’s Grill space in the ShopRite Plaza in Niskayuna, where they are cooking their wonderful, authentic Mexican food. It’s much larger, and you can even get a Margarita.

Sheryl and I went for a late lunch to avoid crowds and were pleased to see there was only one other party in the restaurant.

Sheryl noticed the Frida Kahlo prints right away, a nice touch and a good fit for the colorful decor. The large room has a bar in the left corner with three big TV screens, a line of booths across the back and a raised seating area. Double glass doors lead outside to an attractive patio we can only dream of enjoying someday.

The tables are topped with striped, colorful blankets protected by clear plastic. Wooden chairs are painted all the colors to match. There are stained-glass lamps, Tiffany-style, throughout. It’s cheerful. Upbeat, bouncy Spanish language music played loudly.

The extensive menu offers tacos, fajitas, burritos, soups and salads, and then arranges more selections by kind: chicken, beef, vegetarian. We like their Express Lunch menu, a wide variety of dishes from $6.99 to $10.99, with photos showing exactly what you get. Tequila’s specialties are yet another category.

An order of two a la carte tacos with chicken or beef is $7.99; a 14-ounce T-bone steak with shrimp and all the sides is the priciest item at $24.99.

Perhaps it was the off-peak time but we did some waiting, first to get drink orders. The server showed up with a basket of homemade chips and fresh salsa with just a little heat, so we forgave her. She’d also turned the music down.

We didn’t catch her eye again until almost all the chips were gone. Luckily we’d already put in an order of guacamole dip ($5.99) and an excellent pineapple Jarritos soda ($3) for me.

“The guacamole is nice and chunky,” said Sheryl, but not seasoned enough for her. She’d have added tomatoes, onions, cilantro, jalapeño, which is a different item on the menu. She liked it enough to finish it, though.

My notes say here, “Really long wait,” for the server to come back to collect the rest of our order. We hoped the food would be quicker, and it was.

The server first brought out the two plates of sides. Sheryl had black beans and rice. “The beans are salty and smooth,” she said approvingly.

My sides, presented on a hot white platter, were smooth and silky refried beans with melted cheese, yellow rice and a generous salad of shredded iceberg lettuce topped with dollops of sour cream and guacamole and pico de gallo, an excellent, fresh salsa of chopped tomato, white onion, serrano peppers and cilantro. This plate could have easily served as a meal.

Sheryl had ordered the Tacos de Cameron ($16.99), three soft corn tortillas filled with grilled shrimp, cabbage, pico de gallo and thick avocado wedges. “They’re very fresh and soft,” she said as she squeezed a lime wedge over the tortillas.

Luckily she’d tested the “special sauce” before she poured it over her tacos; it was really, really hot. “Glad I tasted it first,” she said, clearly relieved, and said her meal was “really good.”

We heard my meal long before it arrived — its sizzling could be heard all over the restaurant. A cloud of steam accompanied it and it kept billowing, and the platter kept sizzling. “Don’t touch the platter,” said the server, offering the most obvious advice ever.

This is the Tequilas Fajitas ($20.99) and you won’t forget it. It’s a platter of protein wrapped in spicy, delicious sauce that won’t let you forget.

Perched atop was a lovely soft flour tortilla filled with shredded cheese. I got my first taste of the seasoning, soaked up in its tortilla. I took a bite. It was the only safe thing to eat.

My meal was prohibitively hot; I could only eat around the outer edges of the cast-iron skillet for the first five minutes. There was a packet of three soft, warmed flour tortillas but no plate to put food on to cool.

So I picked apart the meal until the temperature went down. Thus, I can report on its components individually.

The vegetables, especially the onions, which were cooked to almost-caramelized goodness, soaked up the cumin-scented sauce beautifully. The red peppers were slick with the sauce and cooked into limp submission. I ignored the few green pepper slices. Thick cross-sections of tomato were cooked down into pulpy seasoned nothingness — in a good way.

The beef was thick-grained, like skirt steak, cooked through with considerable chew. Four large shrimp were seasoned, beautifully cooked and arranged to best advantage on top. They were excellent.

Chicken for fajitas can be dry, but these strips were permeated with seasoned marinade, with some bits of char from the incandescent skillet. The pork was a standout: shredded but tender and even a bit fatty — I’d go back for their carnitas any day. Chorizo sausage was soft, crumbled and loose, adhering to all the different elements of the dish, spreading its garlic and paprika everywhere.

It was so, so delicious.

Each forkful was dragged through the dregs of the skillet, picking up more of the flavorful, slightly oily sauce. I was in my own little world when Sheryl said, pointing to the foil packet on the table, “You have tortillas there.”

Whoops. Into the still-warm, pillowy flour tortillas went onions, chicken, steak, shrimp, bringing with them that wonderful sauce. A revelation: It was even better wrapped in flour, all the different textures and kinds of meat together. The beef was much improved, its chewiness not so obvious eaten this way.

If it was good on the plate, it was fabulous wrapped in a tortilla.

My meal was enough to serve several people, but I managed to finish off the rest the next day, assisted by two pesky cats.

We completely forgot dessert, a shame since I still recall the dreamy Trés Leches cake at La Mexicana. Don’t you make that mistake.

The tab for our excellent meal came to $60.73 including tax and tip.

We are just starting to return to restaurants again. Visiting at less-busy times might result in uneven service, but at Tequila’s, the food is well worth a wait.

Tequila’s Mexican Bar & Grill

WHERE: 2305 Nott St. E. (ShopRite Plaza), Niskayuna; (518) 280-3424;
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $60.73 with tax and tip
MORE INFO: All major credit cards. Lots of parking in shopping center. Reservations accepted. Children’s menu.

Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Food, Life and Arts, Your Niskayuna


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