Venue Review: Loco Lime
The Charlotte Observer
1101 Central Ave.
The Loco Lime bustles with bright dishes and engaging servers. With mid-range price options and some good details - including the place's careful self-description as "Mexican-inspired" - it's one of those restaurants Charlotte has few of: both affordable and fun, with a menu that's a little atypical.
Vegetarians will be particularly pleased: There's a whole menu section for them, and it involves roasted corn relish, sweet plantains and grilled zucchini, along with the ubiquitous portobello mushrooms. True, the same combo appears in nearly every dish - from enchilada and 'changa to burrito and quesadilla - but at least it's an interesting combo.
And there are suitable dishes in other sections, too - a breakfast burrito can be made without meat, and there's a huevos rancheros dish that may be my favorite thing on the menu: three eggs cooked to order (I like poached for this), with a rich red sauce, rice, refritos, tortillas and pico de gallo. At $7.95, it's a steal.
The huevos are listed as a specialty entrée. Others in that category include an ancho-crusted pork chop and grilled skirt steak. Skip the chipotle lime chicken, a bland and overcooked dish that was the only definite disappointment.
Combo plates give you choices of protein and choices of vehicle: several forms of beef, chicken and pork, plus Mexican chorizo sausage, in tacos, tostadas and half a dozen other formats. Two are $7.50, three $10.50 and come with rice, beans, guacamole and other condiments. My pork al pastor proved juicy and shredded beef flavorful. You can also get fish tacos, which use the typical tilapia, with mango cilantro salsa.
Honey citrus cilantro slaw, by the way, is a side offered with many entrees and is a refreshing change. The offering of other sauces - a tomatillo one and a citrus chile with heat - is also inviting.
"Locorritos" are oversized burritos and come with the same choices of protein as the combos; so do tortas (sandwiches made with crusty rolls), chimichangas and tacos. Fajitas do better than usual, with peppers and onions showing a nice bit of char and the chicken, steak or shrimp juicy - there's more vegetable than protein, which I like, and the plates come with plenty of condiments.
Enchiladas venture a little afield: There's chicken mole, crab and shrimp with potato and a green tomatillo sauce. Our server steered me to the shrimp over the mole, so I figured it must be spectacular. Wrong: The enchilada was fine, with the tomatillo shown off to good effect, but tiny shrimp were used, and the potatoes needed a bit more time to soften. Next time: mole.
Green banana chips, pickled jalapenos and fried whole jalapenos are other welcome quirks, and there's an assortment of margarita versions to play with. Nice to see a silver one being used in several of the specialties, rather than gold; silvers are underrated as sipping tequilas, too.
The place offers a suitably rich and moist tres leches cake, and has dessert-style drinks, too, from a virgin ice cream colada to a strawberries-and-cream one.
Honduran native Carlo Martinez is chef, and a partner in this venture, along with the owners of Hawthorne Pizza, and Jeff Smith, and this is the second Loco Lime; the first opened a few months before this one, at Highland Creek.
The décor here is contemporary but muted: iron sconces and candles dot the quiet-but-for-a-swath-of-lime dining areas, and a few glittery sombreros speckle the bar. Booths are padded and comfortable; servers seem uniformly chatty and relaxed.
The kitchen executes well its versions of dishes made popular in Mexican cooking's years in America. I'd love to see a bit more for the adventurous, but either way, The Loco Lime is far from crazy: It's got a good point.