The Day – Named after an Aztec legend, La Llorona de Niantic offers progressive and refined Mexican cuisine
The restaurants and the culinary culture are mysterious in their intertwined ways. Certain geographic locations, for example, seem ideal for a dining destination – and yet no matter how many restaurants are open there, nothing works.
Other times a new place will open up in some place and for some reason it seems predestined for huge success. In the latter context, we have La Llorona in Niantic. Since opening in April, in the building that once housed Burke’s Tavern and more recently the Lionheart Tavern, people have lined up to try (and return for more) La Llorona’s “progressive Mexican cuisine”.
Since my wife Eileen and I grew up in Texas, where you can eat great Mexican food three times a day and go months without revisiting the same restaurant, our quarter of a century in Southeast Connecticut didn’t did not offer the same opportunities. There is an abundance of other excellent cuisines indigenous to the area, of course, and we took advantage of that. But the opportunities for Mexicans have slowly increased, and we’re always happy to hear about a new opportunity-focused place south of the border.
We visited La Llorona on a recent weekend party with our friends Susan and Ted. True to rumor, the place was sparkling. The outdoor patio, with its wrought-iron fences and tables with umbrellas, was full of diners – many of whom had large margaritas goblets to help lubricate the festive speech.
The interior was just as busy, but after a painless 15 minute wait, we were shown a high table on the front of the window in the dining room. From our slightly elevated vantage point, we couldn’t help but feel happy as the diners seemed to be having such a great time together. The spirit was contagious.
It is also a charming and thematically conceptualized piece. The vibe is Cantina Chic, with patterned tiled floors, comfortably spaced tables, and along the side wall a row of raised booths separated by inlaid wood panels up to the ceiling. Each stand has a rustic faux overhang with blue wooden letters in stylized lettering that spell out the names of Mexican states like Jalisco or Oaxaca. Inside the stand itself, the respective condition is reflected in a photograph.
The remaining walls of the large square room are rust colored and offset by framed artwork including a large painting of the iconic image of La Llorona herself. In the Aztec creation myth, La Llorona is “The Hungry Woman”, who cries constantly for food.
Well, she won’t be hungry for long if she dines at her namesake restaurant in Niantic.
The portions are more than generous, but that is slightly beyond us. Let me say our server was delicious throughout our experience. She filled the drinks and answered questions about the vegetables, and the food arrived at an impressive speed considering the packed house.
Looking at the menu and the evening meals, I tried to understand what exactly “progressive Mexican” means. Turns out the restaurant, a family-owned business with roots in Michoacán and plenty of hands-on experience in Southeast Connecticut including at Steak Loft, features plenty of familiar items – burritos, tacos, fajitas and more. – in a variety of combinations and with twists thanks to family recipes. The idea of progressivity also extends to the happy willingness of the staff to respond to customer requests and comments.
Ted, Susan, and Eileen each tried margaritas served in tall frozen cups and agreed they had just enough tequila and the perfect pie-to-sweet ratio.
Among over a dozen appetizer options ranging from nachos and crispy chicken wings to crab ceviche tostadas and green mole tamales, we tried two. One – because you got to taste some of the basics, right? – was Chips & Guacamole ($ 11); the other was Elote Callejero (Mexican street corn, $ 7).
The guac was big and chewy, the fries were hot and crispy, and the combination was especially fun when dipped in a thin, peppery house salsa. The street corn – served on the cob with a layer of mayonnaise, cotija cheese, playful chili peppers, and cilantro spots – was too salty, so much so that it was difficult to appreciate the other calibrated flavors.
Ever and forever vegetarian Eileen went with Enchiladas de Pollo o Queso ($ 16). The cheese is Oaxaca – a white cheese similar in texture to mozzarella, so it has a good goo factor – and you have your choice of sauces: guajillo sauce or salsa verde. Returning to her childhood vacation in New Mexico, Eileen ordered it “Christmas,” meaning with red and green sauces. The guajillo sauce was smoky and intense, like the pepper that gave it its name; the tangy and bright green like the tomatillos it contained. Merry Christmas! The enchiladas are also topped with lettuce, red onion, grated radish, and cotija cheese and are served with fried black beans and al dente rice. In short, a delicious and hearty dish.
For starters, I was extremely tempted by Tacos Doradoes de Flor de Calabeza y Camarones ($ 22) – stuffed and crispy tacos with squash blossoms, fried cheese and shrimp, served with rice and beans. house and red and green salsas. In the end, I opted for a Carne al Horno Burrito ($ 17).
It was a huge brick of fun. A large flour tortilla tent contained a tender, smoky ripped pork shoulder, expertly cooked rice and beans, grated crisp lettuce, queso and fresca cream, and a rich ladle of guajillo sauce. I liked it but I’m haunted by the shrimp / squash tacos that I haven’t tried. The next time?
Ted and Susan have a relative in Dallas whom they visit quite frequently, so they are equally adept about the nuances of Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine outside of New England. As a benchmark by which she can reliably compare and contrast, Susan asked for the Chiles Rellenos ($ 18), which feature breaded and egg-roasted poblano peppers simmered in a cooked tomato sauce. The dish was served with hot corn tortillas, rice and beans, which Susan said were authentically prepared rather than presented as the must-have side dish.
Faced with so much to choose from, Ted cleverly opted for a combination of fajitas – chicken, shrimp, and carne asada ($ 22 for all three) – and they arrived with the hissing sizzle and that toasted / citrus aroma that makes the whole room pale. to eat . Also on board: Spanish onions, intertwined slices of various peppers, rice and beans and poblano peppers. Each component was expertly toasted for maximum flavor, and the vegetables had a snap that created a happy, earthy contrast when everything was wrapped in flour tortillas.
La Llorona seems to have already made its mark on Niantic as a destination that extends to fans beyond the village – and rightly so. There are certainly some creative elements at work that give a progressive feel to traditional kitchens, and the atmosphere and service are appealing as well.