This one has been a long time in the making. My exposure to Mexican cuisine in the area has been somewhat limited by not wanting to make the trek to downtown Albany. I have been content with the streamlined and “Americanized” food at Pancho’s. That is not to say that I haven’t longed for an authentic Mexican meal since moving up to Albany for college in 1997. Coming from growing up in Orange County, NY, where there is a high density of Mexican population and, therefore, a plethora of eateries serving Mexican food (the best of which being El Bandito Restaurant in Middletown, NY), I started to give up on Mexican food in the Capital Region.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to dine at El Mariachi II (conveniently located at 289 Hamilton Street in Albany, NY aka next to Cheesecake Machismo). I was there for lunch with Cassie, who normally steers me away from Mexican dining due to tomatoes being a staple ingredient in most Mexican dishes. Their lunch menu was impressive. They had between 20 and 30 entree choices, all under $12. While I was deciding on what to eat, I munched on their tasty flour chips and tomatillo salsa, which had a very nice jalapeno kick.
I settled for a Steak and black bean burrito with green sauce. I was thoroughly impressed with my entire dish, especially the steak used in the burrito. The steak was clearly a cut of flank steak, marinated and grilled nicely. The rest of the fillings of the burrito were flavored nicely.
I didn’t take pictures (due to bad lighting, lack of my real camera, and being eager to try the food), but this wasn’t exactly your Moe’s or Chipotle burrito. This was a combination of black beans, steak, rice, cheese, and sauce rolled into a huge flour tortilla, presented on the plate with more sauce over the top and some crumbled Mexican cheese over the top. It was definitely a fork and knife number.
And a comment on the cheese: years ago, when my buddy Rory introduced me to Pancho’s years ago via a CitySearch review that called Pancho’s cheese “the cousin of Velveeta,” I always associate Pancho’s cheese (which I enjoy) with Velveeta. The cheese used at El Mariachi II has the consistency of a feta or ricotta salata, very dry and crumbly, almost to the point where it does not melt. It also has a slight pungency that makes the dish feel even more authentic and rustic.
I will definitely suggest El Mariachi II when looking for places to eat in the area. I would like to traverse the menu enough to decide whether their food is on par with El Bandito in Middletown. As of right now, it is very close, but I have only tried one dish!