Cocina Mexicana ain't your typical tex-mex fare. I had always driven past the small corner eatery on Prince St. and correctly assumed it would have pretty authentic Mexican food. I also incorrectly assumed it would be your basic Mexican food.
Any Mexican menu with Spanish as the dominant language with the English descriptions for us "gringos" out there is off to a great start. When it has things like "beef tongue," well, now it's just positively authentic.
I'm told the owner of the restaurant is from Puebla, Mexico - 60 miles southeast of Mexico City. As there are regional tastes in the United States, there also are in Mexico, and naturally, the food here reflects that region.
We started with Nachos con Carne Asada ($5.50). When I say "nachos," you're probably thinking oozing Velveeta-like cheese over a mound of chips and ground beef, topped with the works. This isn't that at all, but rest assured, it's good. Strips of grilled beef are laid on top of chips with just enough cheese melted on top so that it doesn't overwhelm the dish. It allows for a certain balance of all the ingredients. Choose your salsa from the three different squeeze bottles of salsa in varying degrees of heat, and enjoy. Note, it may just be me, but I found the medium to be hotter than the hot. Anyone else?
I ordered the Pollo a la Parilla ($9.25), grilled chicken topped with onions, served with rice and beans. I have to admit that when it first placed in front of my expecting eyes and salivating mouth, I felt a slight disappointment that there wasn't a heaping serving of food, but instead, a rather one-dimensional platter of...flat food. I thought, I am such an American, and, where will we eat after this? But disappointed in the food, I was not. The chicken was flavorful and expertly grilled so that it was still nice and moist. Along with the dish came these wonderfully warm and soft corn tortillas. I ended up building little burritos with the chicken, beans, and rice, with a drizzle of the hot salsa. Delicious. Heavenly.
We also ordered the Tampiquena ($10.25), grilled steak served with sauteed onions, guacamole, rice and beans. Tampiquena is a traditional Mexican dish, usually made with skirt steak. I've always found skirt steak to be temperamental. Grill it just a little too long, and it's dry. Cut it the wrong way, and it's stringy. Sheesh. I don't care that it's supposed to less expensive. Rib-eye is an easier date. The beef at Cocina Mexicana suffered a bit of that dryness. Which made it also a bit tough. Still, it was flavored well and thinly cut so that the burrito-building activity could resume enjoyably.
When we left, I was happy and full of Authentic Mexican Food (after all, that's what it says on the sign outside), and walking out with half of my "flat food" in a take-home box. Yes, that's right. It's deceivingly a lot of good, enjoyable, Mexican food...