If there was ever a restaurant in need of a know-before-you-go guide, it’s Americado Mexi-Food Hall, a newly opened Mexican restaurant on the city’s south side.
First thing you need to know: This is no ordinary Mexican restaurant.
Opened in March in a sleek new building that towers above the intersection of Berry Street and Eighth Avenue, Americado attempts to pay homage to Mexican food carts and markets. But the concept is so confusing, its ambition often comes at the expense of diners’ patience and sanity.
The fast-casual restaurant is divided into five stations, three offering food, two drinks. For chicken, you go to the right. Fish, back left. Tacos, here. Horchata there.
Oddly, you can only order that particular station’s food at that particular station; in other words, you can’t order fish tacos from the chicken station.
This leads to much confusion, as we witnessed over the course of several visits, with people crowding around the small stations trying to look at menus and figure out how and what and where to order. A hostess tried to explain the process, but patrons still wandered aimlessly.
You pay for each item at each station, as opposed to paying one bill, so be prepared to stand in more than one line. After you order, you’re directed to a small dining area (there’s also an attractive patio) where food is brought to your table.
In the evening, a server refills drinks. At lunch, you’re on your own, refilling your own drinks at the bar.
Once you get past the restaurant’s nuances, you can enjoy the food, and much of it does go beyond the Tex-Mex norm.
Chips and guacamole ($6) are a good way to start. The corn chips were light and crisp, the guacamole bright and fresh. Tiny chunks of avocado were buried throughout; you could tell it had just been made.
The restaurant’s rendition of elote ($4) was excellent. It was much creamier than the typical corn-in-a-cup, thanks to a thick crema sauce, and there was more than enough to share, too.
One of the stations is devoted exclusively to chicken, and this is where the restaurant excels. You can order it in enchiladas, tacos, flautas and quesadillas, or by the whole or half chicken.
A rotisserie half chicken ($12) featured wonderfully crisp, blackened skin that gave way to meat that was tender and smoky, if not a tad dry— a good excuse to dunk it in an accompanying zesty tomatillo sauce.
On the side came creamy refried beans, simple and rich, and lackluster Spanish rice, dotted with peas and carrots. The chicken also came with a half-dozen corn tortillas, which were not made in-house but were pliable and slightly flavorful, and a pair of roasted potato chunks, each topped with a crown of crema sauce and cotija cheese. I could have eaten a couple more of those.
Quesadillas de tinga ($9) were very good, too, with a filling of shredded chicken and a spicy chipotle sauce. Instead of the usual flour variety, the tortillas were made of masa, a nice touch.
From the fish station, we tried shark empanadas ($14), fried, flaky pastries filled with shark meat and topped with pico de gallo and avocado sauce. The pico was dotted with cucumber, a refreshing change of pace from typical pico, and the avocado sauce was pleasingly rich; the meat itself was a little too fishy.
Tacos came four to an order ($10) and were of the small, street-size variety.
There were eight different fillings, and you can mix and match. I chose chorizo, al pastor, flank steak and mushroom, and the only one I can recall with any fondness is the al pastor, whose marinated pork came straight off a rotating trompo.
Among the dessert choices were frozen popsicles and housemade flan. Might be better to save your sweet tooth for a sweet agua fresca, such as guava or coconut horchata ($3). Other drinks include craft cocktails, a small selection of beer, and several tequilas.
The restaurant was built from the ground-up on a large plot of land where an auto repair shop used to be. As at many other contemporary restaurants, decor is a mix of rustic, modern and industrial. The dining area is outfitted with the obligatory garage door, which is opened when the weather’s nice.
Parking is behind the restaurant, along Gordon Street. If you park in the vacant lot next to the restaurant, a sign warns, you’ll get towed — something you definitely need to know before you go.