We skipped a lot of conventional Tex-Mex food to try items unique to Lolita. Carne asada ($23) is skirt steak with flour tortillas, guacamole, and salsa — tactfully not named "fajitas" and better for it because then you can marinate the beef in chili vinegar for more flavor. Pollo asado ($18) was a cast-iron cazuela of a half chicken with vegetables, quite spicy with habanero vinegar. Shrimp ajillo ($24), which I identify more with Spain, is served more like a salad on cress, sliced radishes, onions, avocado, and garlic shrimp without as much bite as other entrées.
My favorite entrée, though, jumped out of the conventional Mexican plates: blackened mahi-mahi tacos ($15). Good news right away, not overly "blackened" nor spiced, with a creamy jicama slaw, avocado, and pumpkin seeds — this dish allows one to taste the fish amid the pile-up of ingredients. A side-order ($6) — which are described on the menu as "Sanchos," perhaps since Sancho Panza was the side order with Don Quixote in another work of literature — of clay pot black beans was thoroughly cooked, a little salty, with some of the mint flavor of epazote.
Out of the 200 tequilas, this writer decided to explore a handful of mescals, a less purified spirit with more of the cactus flavor. Based on a Scorpion Añejo ($14) on the rocks, this may not be for everyone. Mezcals are less distilled and vodka-like than tequilas, with more smoke to the flavor. So even with several years of barrel age at the añejo level, the outcome tastes less like lab alcohol and a little more like bad moonshine. Another issue is that bare alcohol makes chilies taste even hotter. A rum-based Mojito Fresca ($12) lacked the full mintiness and slight sweetness I expected — might as well invent a tequila julep. Cerveza, vino, and especially sangria might be better choices with food.
Coffee, however, is a must, if only for the elaborate service with lumps of raw sugar) and Mexican chocolate (very good with decaf), in addition to everything else you have ever considered putting in coffee. Of the desserts, my picks were the tres dulces ($10) and the bread pudding ($8). The former, despite the trio problema, had an irresistible demitasse of hot chocolate, high-quality caramel ice cream, and shortbread cookies. The latter was good, solid stuff to tamp down the chilies. On the other side of the ledger, apple cake ($8) lacked enough apples, and a cuatro leches cake ($8) lacked the toothache sweetness of the classic Central American treat.
With the bill comes a cone of green-apple cotton candy. It's weird, it clashes with the décor, and I love it. I've never seen it in Mexico, but it has the spirit. Atmosphere in a sprawling basement with tin ceilings and plain wood tables does rather suggest a cantina, if not a cocina, and the bathrooms extend the cast-iron motifs by painting them onto the fixtures. The soundtrack ranges around the Hispanic world, but they do have the guts to play Los Lobos.
LOLITA COCINA & TEQUILA BAR
271 DARTMOUTH STREET, BOSTON
OPEN DAILY 5 PM–2 AM
AE, DI, MC, VI
VALET PARKING: $16
ACCESS DOWN AT LEAST FIVE STEPS
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.