Mexico, Muddled

There are many great options at Mexico in Season, but our reviewer didn't love the ordering process

Reviewing a place like Mexico in Season is difficult because it's obvious that the owners are working hard and are passionate about the idea of serving healthful Mexican food. But after trying most of the items on the menu, I've come to the conclusion that there really isn't a whole lot of variety and that the type of service offered might not be the best way to showcase the dishes.

I can hear fans of the place already grumbling: "What do you mean? Why, there are so many choices, you could eat there every day for a month and not have the same meal!"

That's true to a point. There is a long, long list of toppings and many of them are on the offbeat side (watercress, for example). But let me explain.

The ordering process goes something like this. First, you order a "vessel." Your choices are a burro, a larga (a thick, oval-shaped corn tortilla) a torta or a bowl.

Next you choose either meat ($7) or vegan ($6.50).

Then you head to the line to build your meal. The process isn't new. Chipotle and Subway have done this for years.

The difference here is that the focus is on organic, local ingredients, so the taste level is elevated. But I was frustrated as I picked my toppings because there was little explanation of the process or the choices. Plus the sneeze shield made it hard to hear the people doling out the food, which frustrated me even more.

Vegans and vegetarians will swoon over the "protein" options on the menu: cilantro rice, black beans, pinto beans, cactus stir fry, a sweet potato dish, potatoes with red chile, calabacitas and seitan (wheat gluten) fajitas. Meat lovers are a bit more limited: red chile beef, green chile beef, pork in red sauce, pork in green sauce, chicken fajitas and chipotle chicken. We opted for a red chile burro and a chipotle chicken larga.

As a lapsed vegetarian, I can appreciate the variety of choices, but as a meat lover I wish there were a few more options. After all, red sauce and green sauce are red sauce and green sauce no matter what kind of meat you use.

Using a white flour tortilla for the burro (you can also get whole wheat) the nice man behind the counter heaped lettuce, pinto beans, watercress, tomatoes, guacamole, crema, queso fresco and chiles with lime onto it.

The toppings for the chipotle chicken larga included zucchini slaw, shredded cabbage, black beans, guacamole, crema and a mild salsa. Both plates were piled high.

The red chile consisted of shredded beef in a deep, red sauce that was smoky with chile and other spices. This meal ended up being our favorite because the meat held its own under all of the toppings.

The chipotle chicken consisted of bland chunks of white-meat chicken in a slightly creamy sauce. The larga, though, was fab. The thick texture allowed the flavor of the masa to stand out. It tasted like the tortillas you get in Mexico, and in many ways the larga made the dish.

Here's my biggest beef with Mexico in Season: all those toppings. Once everything is piled onto or into your choice of vessel, the flavors blend together and most of them get lost. If someone had placed the larga in front of me and asked me to identify the ingredients by taste alone, the only things I would have been able to name were the black beans and the tortilla.

This was even more apparent on our second visit. We ordered a chicken fajitas bowl, tortilla soup and a green pork torta. Toppings for the bowl included cabbage, black beans, pico de gallo with fresh cactus and avocado, the tomatillo salsa and crema.

This dish ended up being a soggy mess. I could pick out the peppers and onions in the fajitas as well as the tomatillo salsa, but little else. I left most of it in the bowl.

Because I was confused by the ordering process, I wasn't aware that you can add toppings to the soup. But in my mind tortilla soup should consist simply of good broth, a bit of cheese, maybe some avocado, and tortilla strips. The broth was salty to the point of being nearly inedible. Perhaps a couple of toppings would have helped.

The green pork in the torta was spicy but hard to identify as pork. All the other toppings were a blur.

I really wanted to like Mexico in Season. I like the idea of fresh and organic and I applaud the vegan/vegetarian concept. But the confusing cafeteria style of ordering was a turnoff. And all those choices seemed to work against the concept because, after two or three items, the individual flavors get lost.

I wish the folks here well. They are the people who make La Tauna tortillas, and I'm sure they'll have a big following. I'm just not going to be part of it.