Americans love Mexican food. There are close to 60,000 Mexican restaurants in the United States that generate close to $45 billion in annual sales. We can’t get enough tacos, guacamole, nachos, and burritos. New Mexican restaurants have been popping up around Rhode Island, and we’ve come a long way since the days of Casa Lupita (remember that spot in Warwick?). One of the newer spots, Calaveras, has generated some local buzz, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.
Calaveras is located on Kingstown Road in the trending town of Peace Dale. It’s within walking distance of Whaler’s Brewing and a quick drive from Sons of Liberty. The restaurant is small and has only table seating for 14 and an additional five bar seats. It is adorned with Mexican touches, including several images of its namesake Calaveras (decorative depictions of human skulls). The restaurant does not have a liquor license, but it does have a BYOB policy with strict rules in that you still need an ID to partake (likely due to the close proximity to URI).
The restaurant opened in 2017 by Julio Mendoza and his wife Iliana. This wasn’t their first restaurant endeavor – they already had a successful restaurant on Block Island. Last season, they had two shops open on BI – one in Old Harbor and one in New Harbor. Julio is from Mexico City and many of the recipes in the restaurant come from growing up there or from visits back home to see his family. The Mendozas sought to bring the success of their Block Island operation to the mainland. They also work hard to make their food on the healthier side; they don’t fry many things and use as little oil in their cooking as possible.
On a chilly Sunday afternoon, my friends and I visited Calaveras. On Sundays, they offer their standard menu all day and a brunch menu from 9am-2pm. While we perused the menu, I ordered a Hibiscus Iced Tea ($2.50) to start. They also had a variety of Mexican sodas and bottled water. In season, they make their own agua fresca. We sampled both the guacamole ($6) and the chips and salsa verde ($3.50). Alongside the guacamole and salsa, there were freshly fried tortilla chips. The chips were good and deftly seasoned with salt. I preferred the salsa to the guacamole because the guacamole had a few too many off-season tomatoes for my liking, but the avocado was fresh and the bite of fresh lime juice really sang through. (I wish I had seen that you could add jalapeño to the guacamole. Readers: take note!) The salsa verde was really tasty. The zing of lime juice was the perfect addition to the tomatillo and cilantro flavors. We also tried the Street Corn ($6.50). Fresh corn on the cob was coated in mayonnaise, seasoned with lime and chile powder and topped with fresco cheese.
One of the centerpieces of the menu is the “build your own” section. You can choose tacos, a burrito, a quesadilla, a tostada, a salad bowl, or a rice and bean bowl. Then you choose your filling, which includes their signature pulled chicken, carnitas (pork), veggies, or picadillo (ground beef and carrots) – plus more. After that, you add toppings (two are included for free) including pico de gallo, jalapeños, radishes, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc. My friend went with the classic Pulled Chicken Tacos ($8.50), commenting how nice it was to have freshly made tortillas and how they held up well to the pile of fillings. She really liked the pulled chicken and the shredded Oaxaca cheese. Another friend was seduced by the pulled chicken as well, but had hers in a burrito ($10.50). It was huge, and she enjoyed it (even with the unexciting lettuce and tomato she chose for her toppings).
I’m a sucker for fish tacos and tend to order them if they are available. Calaveras Fish Tacos ($10) were made with baked cod and topped with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, and shredded Oaxaca cheese, and they were good. I especially liked how the cheese melted into the corn tortillas. They had a really good flavor. My other friend had been to the Calaveras in Block Island and liked the Chicken Tortilla Soup ($6.50) so much that she was compelled to order it again. On the cold day we were there, the soup looked enticing. What could be a boring soup of chicken and rice was made exciting by the addition of chipotle, diced red onion, avocado, and cilantro. It was spicy, but not overly so. We also shared a side dish of rice and beans ($4.50). The black beans were well seasoned, but the rice was lacking flavor.
On the day we visited, the restaurant was busy both with people enjoying food in the dining room and those coming in for takeout. I noticed they have a nice patio area for the warmer months. The next time you are craving Mexican food definitely make it a point to visit this local, family-owned business. By the way, a Whaler’s Rise would be a good BYOB option, and you could walk to pick it up.