Mexican Radio – Schenectady, NY
I have been eager to try the food from Mexican Radio in Schenectady since they opened a few months back. We stopped in around 6:30pm with no reservation on a fall Friday evening and were promptly seated in the middle of the dining room on the ground floor. Based on what I had been reading, people were reporting long wait times even with reservations, so being seated quickly was a pleasant surprise that evening, which is good because I was hungry!
The ambiance and decor inside is absolutely remarkable. They did a really great job restoring the interior and creating a warm and modern, yet colorful and classic place. It almost feels like a museum or landmark. It’s a pertinent detail, for sure, but it really doesn’t dictate how the food will be. You could build a McDonalds in The Colosseum, but at the end of the day, it’s still McDonalds. There was an unusual amount of dead space between tables, which was kind of baffling, as it seems like a missed opportunity for higher volume.
My expectations for the food were not high. I had a relatively unimpressive experience at their Hudson location a few years back, and I was certainly aware that they were less dedicated to an authentic Mexican experience and more toward something global and Mexican inspired.
Their Tortilla Chip Chili Pie (Mexican Radio’s take on the Southwestern chili classic Frito Pie – $10) sounded like a decent thing to snack on as an appetizer. It arrived very quickly after ordering.
The size of the portion made the dish absolutely worth the price, but there were a few flaws. Many of the freshly fried chips that formed the base of the dish were completely coated in very course sea salt. I’m all for seasoning food, but this went very far overboard, borderline inedibly so. It’s possible they were going for a literal recreation of Frito pie, but, having tasted the same chips that were part of Cassie’s appetizer (more on this later), this is unlikely.
The serving vessel was completely inappropriate for this dish. It was easy for some of the juicy toppings to fall toward the bottom of the paper coated basket, and any attempts to pick them up with a fork led to the soaked paper tearing. It was also very top heavy, so trying to get at the first few chips with toppings led to a pretty unfun game of Jenga trying to make sure the basket didn’t topple over.
There were definite strengths, though. The sauteed ground beef topping was excellent, and the black beans mixed into the beef were hearty with a slightly chewy shell and creamy interior. The beans are clearly hydrated and slowly cooked in house, which helps to drive the point of value. Occasionally, there were some fairly large chunks of jalapeno, which I found to be delightful (but I like spicy stuff). The cheese was pretty good, but the crema really lifted the dish with a acidic creaminess.
The curious case of Cassie’s appetizer is a story to tell.
She ordered the Ballpark Nachos, listed on the menu as “Choose your filling and pile ‘em high! – $12.” She specified to the waitress that she only wanted beef and cheese. What arrived from the kitchen was just about the same thing as I received, only on a much larger circular plate with a huge handful of diced tomato pico de gallo and a bunch of pickled jalapeno rings on top. It still had the guacamole, beans, and crema, which had us scratching our heads. She’s not as big a fan of spiciness as I am, so she wound up needing to pick through the dish to extract the tomatoes and jalapenos so she could eat it. She didn’t send it back because it was easy to pick around; I would have. If we had realized our dishes would be so identical, we wouldn’t have ordered both.
The wait between our appetizer and dinner was unusually long, but they had a few bottles of hot sauce at the table for me to play with. I found this one to be the more fun of the bunch.
For dinner, I ordered the Triple Enchiladas Mole (Three enchiladas topped with any or all of our 3 moles and lime crema – $19), and I customized each. I had shredded chicken with their house mole (Infused with cocoa, raisins and almonds), grilled steak with their mole verde (made with roasted pumpkin seeds and a hint of spice), and pulled pork with raspberry chipotle mole (House mole mixed w/ sweet local raspberries). While I was ordering, I asked the waitress if she knew if any of their 6 moles were similar to the classic dark Mexican mole Poblano (which is one of my favorite foods on the planet), and she couldn’t answer the question deferring to the fact that there might have been poblano peppers in some of the moles. Again, my expectations for authenticity weren’t high.
The dish was heavily flawed, but had a couple of strong points, namely the rich corn tortillas and the grilled steak. Actually, the grilled steak was outstanding, cooked to a perfect medium and full of flavor from a marinade. The portion for the price was reasonable.
The pork and chicken were very dry, with the chicken being very difficult to eat without using the extra mole around the plate and some water. I felt like the pork had very little flavor, which is kind of unfortunate since it’s pretty straightforward to coax flavor out of pork.
The moles ranged from poor to alright. Their house mole was bitter and pasty, and didn’t have the depth of flavor that defines a mole. The chipotle-raspberry variation barely tasted any different aside from the very assertive smoky spice of chipotle and an odd bitterness probably due to the raspberries. The green mole, which I had expected to like the least, was the most flavorful and more authentic than the other two.
The zigzag crema pattern got a little old by the end of the meal, and the toasted sesame seeds got lost in the heaviness of the dish.
My entree came with a very small saucer of rice and stewed beans. It was kind of frustrating because there was only about 1/4 cup of cooked rice and 1/3 cup of beans there, amounting to nothing more than a few forkfuls of each, and It was pretty easy to knock stuff off the sides of the saucer with the clunky forks they have. I didn’t really care that there was so little of each on the dish, but I can’t help but feel just a little undermined by being presented the sides on such a small plate.
While there were some technical glitches and blunders, I did find some strengths with the food at Mexican Radio (ground beef and steak are great). All in all, it seems like an eclectic place to mingle with friends over some cocktails and snacks.