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Cilantro Mexican Grill
by Brian J. Lowney
"Hola Gordito!" a Chihuahua-like voice shrieked on the other end of the line. "How are you doing?" Mustering up every bit of resolve I had, I shot back, "I am not ‘fat boy’ and if you want to talk to me, you’d better be nice." "Lighten up and listen before you have a stroke and I have to start bringing you lunch in the hospital," my good friend Oswaldo commanded. "There’s a great new Mexican fast food restaurant downtown. We have to check it out. I’ll pick you up at noon."
We arrived at the Cilantro Mexican Grill just as several commuters from nearby Johnson and Wales University were just settling in to enjoy a relaxing lunch. We managed to find a table and started to peruse the brief but inviting menu. "The options are simple,’ Oswaldo began. "You have to choose either a burrito or some tacos. Then you add some meat, and some toppings and that’s lunch! How’s that for a quick lesson in Mexican cuisine?"
I followed my friend to the counter and listened intently as he rapidly ordered his lunch in his native tongue. "What was all that about?" I asked. "I told the young lady that I was from Bolivia but had just spent two weeks visiting my sister in Guadalajara. I said that I love Mexican food and she told me I was about to enjoy a wonderful treat!" Oswaldo announced. "I hope that she is right."
After a bit of coaxing, I chose a giant flour burrito con carne ($5.74 plus tax), which I chose to have filled with pork carnitas (mild shredded pork), cilantro-lime rice, pinto beans, mango-corn salsa, shredded white cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses, red onions and romaine lettuce and hand whipped sour cream.
"Gordito, I wish I had a camera so that I could take a picture of you eating that giant burrito," Oswaldo chuckled. "My mother would just love it. Just look at the size of your burrito. It could feed a village."
While I am not accustomed to eating Mexican food, I did enjoy my luncheon choice. I was surprised to find that the shredded pork - while flavorful - was not as spicy as I thought it would be. The tortilla was light and chewy; the rice presented a tantalizing combination of "hot" and mild and had a refreshing citrus flavor; the pinto beans offered just the right amount of crunch to make my entrée interesting; a few red onions and the lettuce added a healthy twist; and the cheeses and sour cream, which had quickly melted in the short time it took to get my soft drink and to be seated, proved to be a nice contrast to the fiery corn and mango salsa, which was so delightful that I could have eaten it by the pint (only if I had an ample supply of ice water).
"What do you think?" my friend inquired, taking a huge bite out of his burrito. "This is the best Mexican food I’ve tasted north of the border. This is just as good, if not better, than the burrito I enjoyed at the marketplace in Guadalajara."
Oswaldo chose the vegetarian burrito ($5.25), which contained all of the above, sans the meat, plus a generous serving of homemade guacamole. "This is one of the best guacamoles I have ever eaten," my friend observed. "It’s so rich and silky smooth. It tastes so fresh. You might think that the avocados were picked from a tree on Weybosset Street."
Other options include grilled chicken or ground beef, and for those low-carb enthusiasts, Cilantro Mexican Grill offers "the burrito belly" – featuring all the ingredients you’d find in the delicious burrito of your choice with plenty of romaine, but without the corn or whole wheat tortilla. For those who enjoy tacos, any of the menu choices can be served for the same price as a burrito, but in either four crispy corn or three soft flour tacos.
Bottled water, fountain and bottled soda, imported and domestic beers and regular and frozen margaritas are available. While our beverage of choice was a bottle of Sprite ($1.50), Oswaldo wanted to make our lunch into a "real party" with a frozen margarita ($3.99), but decided that he’d wait to enjoy one of the refreshing cocktails on our next visit, perhaps in the evening before a production at the Providence Performing Arts Center. "We’ll start with an appetizer (chips and salsa, $1.99), have a frozen margarita and one of these great burritos and dream that we’re in Mexico," he chuckled. "Who could ask for more?"
Cilantro Mexican Grill is located at 127 Weybosset Street in Providence. For more information call 401-421-8226. The Cilantro Mexican Grill is open Sunday -Thursday 11am -10pm and Friday and Saturday until midnight.
Brian Lowney is a journalist for the Providence Visitor and for the New Bedford Standard Times. He enjoys the wonderful Rhode Island restaurant scene and writing about the cornucopia of outstanding dining and retail food establishments we have been blessed with throughout the region.