Pinata's Mexican Grill
601 Hicksville Rd. Bethpage, NY 516-681-8282
A surprising degree of authenticity informs this casual spot whose Greek-American owner is well versed in Tex-Mex cooking. Recommendations include a soft corn tongue taco, a satisfying fish taco and a spicy chorizo taco. Ask for salsas and mayonnaise-based sauces on the side and customize. Other choices: a shrimp quesadilla, chile con carne, a chicken fajita burrito. A fresh salsa and condiment bar adds to the appeal.Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday: Noon-8 p.m.
Chris Kletsidis, a Greek-American born in Astoria, knows his Tex-Mex food. This I initially deduced by surveying the menu at Piñatas, the attractive informal cafe Kletsidis owns in Bethpage. The presence of a soft corn taco filled with tongue -- a dish usually offered at places run by and for native Mexicans -- was one encouraging sign. So, too, was the fact that Piñatas serves fish tacos, a Cal-Mex favorite virtually unknown at Long Island "gringo" joints specializing in chimichangas with salsa from a jar. At Piñatas, the salsas are fresh and vibrant, as is the pico de gallo -- chopped tomatoes, onion and cilantro with citrus. After ordering at the counter, we hit the salsa bar. The array of dips and condiments worked well with the warm nachos we were given to sample while awaiting our meal, to be eaten with plastic and paper dinnerware. On both visits, I ordered the admirable tongue taco. The second time, I knew to request salsa on the side. I prefer just a little, to fully appreciate the succulent meat sprinkled with fresh cilan.tro. The question of whether to use the hot salsa (made with a variety of dried Mexican chiles and fresh tomatoes) or the milder (green tomatillo) stuff comes down to individual preference. The satisfying fish taco, made with chunks of breaded cod, bright slaw and pico de gallo, also worked best with its spiced mayonnaise sauce on the side. A soft corn taco filled with spicy pieces of chorizo (sausage) was one more authentic Mexican item. Quesadillas were ideal for sharing. My favorite filling was shrimp combined with oozy Jack cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. It edged out a perfectly respectable vegetable version. Chile con carne proved fiery-hot, killer stuff. Because I'm not a huge fan of rice-stuffed burritos, I was gratified that the chicken fajita bur.rito contained no rice -- just sauteed tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and pepper with cheese, guacamole and grilled chicken. That chicken, used in several other dishes, was juicy, tinged red from a blend of spices, somehow reminiscent of what comes out of an Indian tandoori oven. Chicken topped a sprightly Caesar salad whose dressing, while not creamy, had lots of flavor. One of the best uses for this poultry was in the platter called chicken mole fajita, grilled chicken with lettuce, pico de gallo, tortillas and a rich mole (unsweetened chocolate and pumpkin seed) sauce. Dessert options included a tres leches ice cream cake, as well as a fried ice cream cannonball, both merely OK. With a Baskin Robbins store right next door, Kletsidis will have a hard time enticing people to stay for dessert. He'll have no trouble, however, bringing them in for the main event -- Tex-Mex fare executed with care and elan. --Joan Reminick (4/13/07)