Friday, December 2, 2011

Ole Mexican Grill - Cambridge, MA

Restaurant Info:
11 Springfield Street
Inman Square
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 492-4495

Looking for Mexican food in the the northeastern United States can be a challenge. Even in NYC and Boston, it's hard to find unanimously loved South of the Border food on sites like Chowhound and Yelp. For us, this is generally tragic, as the spicy, savory goodness of Mexican cuisine ranks among our favorites. So, we decided to give Ole a chance, and we dined there this past weekend with my parents. The food at Ole Mexican Grill was a pleasant surprise, combining authenticity and innovation to make some of the more unusual but delicious Mexican fare that we have had.

The atmosphere at Ole was typical of a trendy spot in Cambridge. Relatively small area given the number of diners, fairly loud (not a quiet date spot by any means), and dimly lit. There was a bar at the front of the restaurant that became progressively busier as we ate. The first thing we checked out was the beverage menu. The drink selection was expansive, featuring a large selection of tequilas and mixed drinks. Ole employs a full time mixologist, so the cocktails looked excellent. I ordered the La Vida Buena Margarita, which in addition to tequila had mexcal, aperol, vermouth, and housemade chocolate mole bitters. Served on the rocks, the drink packed a punch, but was wonderfully smooth and bitter (I, unlike Tricia, am a huge fan of bitter drinks). Both of my parents tried the Spicy Mango, which basically had a touch of habanero with mango puree and tequila. The drink was tasty, delivering on the promise of a spicy kick. Unfortunately, the mango taste was completely absent from this cocktail. Tricia ordered one of the special cocktails, Nolan's Nectar. This was the sweetest drink of the bunch, and it was laced with ginger and orange flavors with a rum base. All of the drinks were pleasantly sweet (not sugar-loaded), and highlighted the use of high-quality liquor at the bar.
Spicy Mango (left) and La Vida Buena Margarita
Ole Mexican Grill is presented as a Mexican Tapas place. They have a fairly extensive selection of tapas, having plenty of meat, vegetarian, and seafood options to choose from. For a more traditional dining experience, these tapas can be served as appetizers, and this is the route we went (mainly because the entrees looked so appetizing!).

We chose 3 appetizers in addition to the complimentary chips and salsa: Legumres en pipian Oaxaqueno, Taquitos de Cangrejo, and Sopes Ole. The Legumres dish was a vegetable stew in a savory broth. It had onions, pickled cactus, and poblano peppers among other things.The broth was rich and warming, and deliciously spiced with what we guessed was cumin.The taquitos were packed with fresh crabmeat in addition to a black bean sauce. They were topped with crema, a red chili sauce, and greens. Perfectly cooked, and not too greasy, as many taquitos tend to be.

Legumres en Pipian Oaxaqueno and Taquitos de Cranjero
Our last appetizer was the Sopes Ole. Tricia and I had first has sopes a few months back at El Limon near Philly, and we were eager to try them again. We weren't disappointed. The masa sopes were fried crispy and topped with delicious shredded pork, cabbage slaw and cotija cheese. They were so good, that I didn't even have time to snap a picture before most of the plate was devoured!
Sopes Ole

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the chips and salsa that we had. Like the tortillas here, the chips are made fresh in the restaurant, and the roasted red salsa is extremely fresh. Guacamole is also available, and is made tableside, but we did not take this option.

For dinner, I ordered the arrachera. I have to say that I think the name of this dish is a misnomer: Ole's arrachera is a skirt steak, but arrachera in Mexican cuisine typically indicates the neighboring flank steak. Nonetheless, my steak was cooked perfectly to my order (medium), and was extremely tender and flavorful. It was marinated and well-spiced, and the accompaniments were outstanding. Green beans, fresh handmade tortillas, extremely flavorful pinto beans (a rarity, as in most Mexican places, the beans are incredibly bland), and fresh red sauce made for a unified and delicious plate. The pinto beans were so good that we ended up ordering a side of them for the whole table. The fresh-grilled jalapenos that you can see here packed some heat: even with my taste for spice, I found them extremely hot. Be cautious you spice novices!

Tricia ordered the mariscada, which was a seafood medley in a guajillo chili sauce. It featured scallops, shrimp, mussels, and clams, and was served with a cilantro rice. The seafood was cooked well. I will admit that I got one mussel that was cooked to oblivion, but this was an outlier. The scallops and even the shrimp were perfectly tender, and all the seafood tasted fresh. This was a great dish, and it is something you won't find in many Mexican places. The cilantro rice was wonderful as well, and again, we ordered a side plate for the whole table!

My dad tried a dish very similar to Tricia's called Langosta y Camarones (i.e. Lobster and Shrimp) with a side of salsa habanera. It was served in a sauce similar to Tricia's dish, but it came on grilled polenta and was accompanied by a white beans, spinach, and mushroom cassoulet. In addition to lobster and shrimp, this dish featured scallops as well. Again, the shrimp and scallops were delicately cooked and tender. Disappointingly though, the lobster had been cooked to the point of toughening. Lobster is always a treat, and this was probably the weakest aspect of the whole meal. Still, the dish was enjoyed. The side of habanero salsa was impressive: it was a tomatillo-based salsa, but the habanero part was no joke. The habanero was clearly discernible, and this was the hottest salsa any of us had been served in a restaurant.

Langosta y Camarones
Blazingly-hot Salsa habanera
The final dish, ordered by my mom, was a vegetarian option. The chilaquiles vegetarianos at Ole was served lasagna-style. In chilaquiles, tortilla slices are served simmered in salsa, and Ole layered these and baked them with alternating layers of spinach, corn, and poblano peppers. The whole thing was topped generously with cheese and mushrooms and served on what they called "corn puree" (to me, it tasted like creamed corn with some savory ingredients added). The whole dish came together well, with the homemade tortillas really absorbing the flavor of their fresh salsa and making a great foil to the richness of the cheese. The poblano peppers added some smokiness, and the seasoning was such that all of the flavors of the dish were exemplified in each bite.

Chilaquiles Vegeterianos
Portions at Ole are sizable, but not on par with the supersized platters that some Mexican restaurants serve. From a price standpoint, Ole is quite expensive, especially compared to usual Mexican-American eateries. However, given the quality of ingredients and preparation (as well as the hip Cambridge location), Ole is not really a comparison for the typical Chi Chi's style restaurant (do people remember Chi Chi's?). We really enjoyed this place, and highly recommend to anyone looking for a special Mexican dinner in the Boston area. It's also worth noting that Ole Mexican Grill is part of a restaurant consortium that also owns a sit-down place in Boston proper called Zocalo. We have not yet tried there, but there menu looks equally delicious.


  1. Yes the food was great. All the dishes were flavorful and well made. One can also go there just for the tapas. There is a a vriety of small bites to be had.

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