When it comes to bread and cheese, Vermont offers an embarrassment of riches. But if you're looking for good Mexican food in the Green Mountain state, prepare for more embarrassment and fewer riches. This can be vexing for dedicated Mexican-food junkies such as my family of four. Our hunt for a south-of-the-border fix recently led us to Frida's Taqueria and Grill in Stowe.
We arrived at Frida's at peak dinner hour on a steamy Saturday night in August. I expected a long, hot wait, but once the hostess arrived, she seated us right away. She brought us to the last empty booth in a bright and cheery dining room festooned with images of Frida Kahlo. Looking around, I realized just how lucky we were to snag this comfy spot: Every seat at the U-shaped counter was full, as were all the tables in an adjacent room.
For us, salsa is nectar, and good tortilla chips ambrosia, so I wasted no time ordering both, with a side of fresh guacamole. The chips came hot and crisp, tossed in a sugar-salt blend that made it impossible to stop eating them. The roasted pepper salsa was mild and kid friendly. The waiter made the guacamole right there at the table by smashing fresh avocados, cilantro, jalapeno and lime juice in a lava-stone bowl. The kids were captivated.
If the meal had ended right there, with the chips and dips, we all would have been happy. My daughter, a notoriously picky eater, loved the salsa, and my son polished off at least two avocados worth of guacamole. I found myself wondering if Frida's could be our go-to Mexican restaurant in Vermont.
But the honeymoon ended there. My chicken enchiladas came in a thick, chunky, dark sauce with smoky flavor — more like BBQ sauce than the red-chili mixture I expect on enchiladas. The chicken was tasty, but I missed the ubiquitous rice and refried beans served in most Mexican restaurants. My husband was similarly underwhelmed by his three-taco meal. The carnitas, fish and shrimp tacos were smaller than expected; his shrimp taco had just one lonely shrimp.
The kids' entrées, on the other hand, were delicious. The perfectly seasoned, slow-cooked beef in my son's burrito melted into the cheese and beans. I was glad he had eaten so much guacamole, because it meant more burrito for me. The pork in my daughter's chimichanga, a large fried burrito, was tender and well seasoned, and I found myself stealing bites of her meal as well.
For the amount of food we got, we paid a pretty high price. But the after-dinner family entertainment — a public bocce ball court next door — was free.
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