Tuesday, 25 February 2020 14:03

Mexican in the Midwest

Written by  Josh Veal
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Cantina Mexican Grill. Cantina Mexican Grill. Courtesy Photo

When you and your friend say you’re in the mood for “Mexican food,” the experiences you’re separately imagining could be worlds apart.

Mexico itself is home to a vast variety of cuisine across its many states, and even in the U.S., we see that diversity on display. There’s “authentic” Mexican, a subjective term that tends to mean delicious tacos on corn tortillas, a variety of hot sauces, and big fluffy tortas. La Huasteca, El Granjero and Taqueria San Jose come to mind.

Then there’s the eminent “Tex-Mex,” which makes ample use of Southern staples like chili con carne, corn and yellow cheese. As this pseudo-fusion cuisine made its way to us, however, it has morphed and evolved. What you tend to see across West Michigan is not true Tex-Mex, but a different style that has no specific name, beyond perhaps “Mexican Grill.”

I’d say the Mexican Grill has three defining characteristics: huge wet burritos, massive margaritas and near endless options — everything us Midwesterners love. When someone specifically says, “Let’s go get Mexican,” they typically mean these full-service, sit-down experiences.

You may have your favorite spot already, but we always suggest trying somewhere new. Let Revue guide you to your next big burrito.


El Rancho
770 E. 16th St., Holland
12659 Riley St., Holland

El Rancho is a lakeshore favorite, known for especially friendly service and tons of authentic choices, not to mention unique plating. The Faijta Pina is a unique take on fajitas, with pineapple in the mix and served out of a halved pineapple. If you’re craving Mexican food after the beach, this is the place to be.

Cantina Mexican Grill
2770 East Paris Ave., Grand Rapids

Two words: Bean. Pot. It’s a communal pot of refried beans, there at Cantina, just for you. It’s the perfect partner to chips and salsa, which also come with this amazing seasoning you have to try. You want it all. Not to mention the three unique, separate dining areas. They have the more traditional front room, the downstairs bar area, and the incredible back room, which feels like another world, with little caves and curved walls all around. All the sections have the full menu of amazing Mexican food, including one of my favorite wet burritos and dauntingly large margaritas. 

La Pinata Bar and Grill
475 N. Drake Rd., Kalamazoo

Tucked between a Sally Beauty Supply and a Great Clips, La Pinata is one of those surprising little hidden gems. Head inside for a colorful atmosphere, where you’ll immediately forget the strip-mall exterior. It’s the kind of place that quickly becomes a personal favorite that you love to recommend only to those closest to you. The menu is robust, yet not overwhelming, and the drinks are especially fun — including one served in a pineapple. 

El Agave Mexican Grill and Bar
5401 Northland Dr. NE, Grand Rapids

El Agave fills the Mexican hole just north of Grand Rapids, and it does it well. The menu offers an ocean of options, with 13 burrito varieties alone. However, you should really flip to the Especialidades el Agave for truly unique offerings like the Plato Loco, a big plate of grilled chicken breast, deep-fried bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp, and Mexican rice, all paired with steamed vegetables, sweet corn, avocado, tomato, and cucumber, THEN smothered with hot cheese sauce. There goes your weekend!

Beltline Bar
16 28th St. SE, Grand Rapids

I feel comfortable saying that Beltline Bar is the Yesterdog of Mexican restaurants: a longstanding Grand Rapids institution that does things the way they want to, whether you like it or not. They claim to have invented the wet burrito in the ’60s — that may or may not be true, but what we do know is that if you really want to experience West Michigan culture, you have to visit Beltline Bar. 

Lindo Mexico
1742 28th St. SW, Wyoming

When I think of Lindo Mexico, I think of nothing but good experiences. Everything I’ve ever had there has been excellent, yet somehow, it’s always served quickly and without flaw. Lindo has the authentic options alongside the Midwestern favorites, and you can’t go wrong with either. The coladas, chips and salsa, and burritos here are all some of the best around. It’s all made better by an always-friendly staff and a bright, open atmosphere with colorful paintings by local artists.

Los Amigos
3317 Stadium Dr., Kalamazoo
5480 Gull Road, Comstock
7375 S. Westnedge Ave., Portage

In Kalamazoo, Los Amigos is holding down the fort with three locations, which just shows how loved they are. They take great pride in their Mexican culture and it comes through in the menu, which features unique options like the Molcajete, a house specialty. This volcanic lava rock bowl is filled with basically every meat they have and topped with nearly every ingredient they have. It’s emblematic of the many, many delicious options you have here. If you want to go doubly big, get the Margarita Amigo Grande, a 38-ounce drink served with two upside-down Coronitas.

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