Street tacos from Rio Bravo in Westbrook. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

I adore Mexican food and I eat it frequently, including in my own kitchen, where my taco Tuesdays are righteous. So naturally I wanted to check out the new Rio Bravo Tacos & Tequila in Westbrook.

First, though, to save any hardcore foodies reading this from panicking, let me get in front of this and say yes, I’ve had authentic Mexican food. Several years ago, I spent some time in Zihuatanejo and Troncones, Mexico, where I ate my fill. I will work Zihuatanejo into as many conversations as possible because of the Stephen King reference. It’s the spot in the movie where the characters portrayed by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman reunite on a beach at the end of “Shawshank Redemption.”

I decided to grab takeout from Rio Bravo, which I regretted as soon as I got there. The huge space is attractive, with carved wood, terra cotta pots, traditional music and artwork, plus plenty of booths. Next time for sure, I’m eating there and will make it a dinnertime affair so I can wash down the meal with a mojito or glass of sangria. Rio Bravo also serves 11 flavors of margaritas. Yum!

The food menu is as big as the dining room. It features all sorts of appetizers (including taquitos), five kinds of quesadillas, several salads, and all of the other dishes you’d expect to see at a Mexican place. But I didn’t have any trouble choosing. Once my eyes reached the tacos section, they locked onto the street tacos, described as corn tortillas with grilled chicken, Monterey Jack cheese, honey-grilled onions, cabbage, pico de gallo, guacamole, and rice and black beans ($16).

This meal checked many boxes for me. Firstly, the dish was nicely packed to go in a recyclable aluminum container, which I appreciated. Even better, everything tasted fresh and flavorful. I ate the tacos both by picking them up and by digging in with a fork and knife as I tried to get as many tastes into each bite as possible. The serving size was impressive for the price, but though the portions were generous, I didn’t need need to crawl under my desk and take a long nap after eating the tacos – a definite plus.

But I am quite possibly the easiest person on the planet to please, as my taste buds are fairly pedestrian and I rarely take wild chances when I order. Call me basic, call me boring. (Just never call me late for dinner.) Unlike me, my spouse Tracy’s palate is sophisticated. She can easily pick out flavors and appreciate particular spices. She’s cooked in restaurants and continues to amaze me with what she whips up for dinner several times a week. Put another way, when it comes to food, she’s a tough customer with high standards.

Steak fajita bowl from Rio Bravo in Westbrook. Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Tracy ordered the steak fajita bowl ($15). She doesn’t eat dairy or gluten, which limited her options, and because of her diet, she ordered the dish without the standard crema sauce and cheese (gasp!). Tracy appreciated the pilaf rice with peas and green peppers, and the corn, cooked peppers and onions that came with the steak. But the bowl offered no lime, cilantro, scallions, freshly chopped tomatoes and the like, and she felt their lack. She was looking for a “zing” that just wasn’t there. It didn’t help that the dry rub on the steak was big on chili powder but small on spiciness.

Fair enough, but trust me, she ate the whole thing and gave points to the house-fried tortilla chips (though not so much to what she described as a generic-tasting salsa). Tracy’s final thought is that she’d return to Rio Bravo with friends for cervezas and appetizers. Count me in as I’ll work on my Spanish while I work my way through the menu. Chimichangas anyone?

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