This morning we had an early morning commercial shoot for a local restaurant, and shooting around food all morning we were starving, so after we wrapped the shoot we decided to venture out and try something new for lunch. Spending almost every morning enjoying the amazing coffee and even more amazing employees at Panera, I drive right by Pennichuck Square in Merrimack, and I’ve seen signs for the new Mexican food restaurant El Tapatio. They have gotten great reviews on Yelp.com, and feeling both famished and adventurous, we decided to take the crew in for lunch. When we first arrived the first thing that strikes you is both the beautiful blue walls and the rich rustic feeling wood tables. It has a definite personality to it, which means to me a real person stood there, looked around, and decided on these things using their heart, not flipping through a Sysco catalog.
Now, whenever we go out to eat, one of the secrets to great food photography blog photos is seat to window placement. I’m not one of those people that gives away his secrets, but we picked the perfect booth by the window for doing blog food photos. Very quickly we were greeted by our waiter, who handed us our menus and took our drink order. We eat out ALOT. And we have many many different types of waitstaff. Alot of time we will get a waitress/waiter who is a college student or younger and clearly its just “a job” for them. But sometimes, like today, we will have a waiter who genuinely cares about us as guests and wants us to have a good experience. Thats rare these days, and normally this is the type of great service you get in small family owned restaurants. I want to, if I can, take a second and talk about the actual physical menu. When I was in college and worked as a chef, I had this incredible girlfriend and we would go out to eat at different places all the time, she was my culinary adventure partner. And the one thing I remember from those trips is the menus, the more unique and kichie the menu, the better the food. I’m a sucker for a personally created kichie menu.
Every Mexican restaurant serves chips and salsa, and every one is a bit different, but the El Tapatio has, hands down, the BEST homemade salsa I have ever had. Ever. Hands down. With ever bite your nose fills with the flavor of the cilantro, and it has this delayed kick of spice right in the back of your throat that is invigorating but not overpowering. They serve it in the best way, its in this small bottle, and once you arrive and they bring the chips, they pour it out right there at the table. Attention to detail, thats what that is. For our appetizer, we went with the Queso Fundito, or as my producer Gretchen calls it, “cheesy goodness”. Its a smooth melty creamy dish of heaven served topped with this spicy sausage mixture. Its my first time enjoying this amazing dish, and you can consider me an Espinaca dip convert now. Its about this part off the meal that I start to notice a trend in the flavors…this is REAL Mexican food. Not American Mexican food, but the flavors and the way it is prepared, I realize that I’m in for a authentic Mexican food meal, and I’m excited.
For our lunch, we ordered of the lunch size portion menu, Gretchen ordered the lunch chimichanga, and I, never getting to enjoy fajitas enough, ordered the lunch fajitas. From the sound of sizzling and the oohs and ahhs of the dining room, I know that my fajita is on its way. For a lunch sized meal, the portions were beyond generous. Being a refried bean junky, my first bite is always of the refried beans, and I noticed a different flavor to these than what I’m used to. Thats when I realize that these authentic refried beans, with an almost nutmeg flavor to them. Different, authentic, and delicious. I don’t think I can go back to plain refried beans now if i tried, I’ve been spoiled. The rice was cooked perfectly, the tortilla was warm and soft, and the meat itself was cooked and seasoned perfectly. I mean, just look at the photo above, bright, colorful, fresh, an amazing dish.
Gretchen, my producer, went with the lunch steak chimichanga, and made the mistake of offering me a bite, because after that bite there was no way I was giving that plate back! Crispy and golden brown, the seasoning and flavor of the chimichanga was incredible. Not overpowering, subtle, but unmistakable. Topped with a generous amount of guacamole and sour cream, it had a perfect marriage of flavors. Defiantly on our next trip we are going for the full size version of this, because clearly it will be for two.
When our waiter, who should be giving classes on how to be a great waiter, came to take our desert order, I made the off hand comment that I would be taking pictures of the desert for my blog and if you could have the chefs make it look extra pretty…and within minutes he comes out with these two plates, which honestly, look as if they were prepared by a food stylist for a professional photoshoot. Do you think some college age waitress would have put this much effort into plate presentation if I had asked the same of her? Absolutely not. I mean, come on, look at those plates?! I was just blown away. We went with fried ice cream and churros. I’m embarrassed to say, but the only time I’ve ever had a churro is when my father and I went to Sams club last year when I bought the foodpic mobile. I’ve ordered fried ice cream before at other restaurants and it never looked this good. Long story short, I have a thing for fried ice cream, I was supposed to take someone for fried ice cream once long ago, but didn’t…always regretted that.
Both dishes were light, flavorful, and absolutely perfect. The churro especially exceeding my expectations. It was so light and fluffy, with just a hint of sugar. It didn’t have any grease to it at all, for a second I thought it could have been a low fat dish it was that light and fresh. Without a doubt, that was hands down the best Mexican food I have ever had. Fresh, authentic, full of genuine flavor, with a staff that clearly cares about each and ever customer. I would give it five pears (that’s the earl studios logo) if I had a rating system.
Make the time to check them out, visit their website at http://eltapatiomerrimack.com/ and take some time to experience what real Mexican food actually tastes like. Tell them Earl Studios sent you…I mean, they will look at you like your crazy cause they wont have any idea what your talking about or who Earl Studios is, but its still fun to do that.
El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant
707 Milford Road (Pennichuck Square)