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José, Sans the Cuervo

May 26, 2010

When José penned “North of the Charles, South of the Border” on his self-titled restaurant’s menu, I’m pretty sure he was referencing the Canadian border. These people are to Mexican fare what Kraft is to Italian fare, they just charge a lot more for their goods. To its credit, José’s of Cambridge has a fun ambiance in the decorations, but that’s about it.

José is a lackluster kind of guy.

My designated driver and I went on a pretty busy night. We had been drawn in by a Groupon–$40 worth of Mexican food for $20. When we arrived, we were seconds behind a couple that was seated immediately, but we waited 5 minutes for the hostess to come back and address us, another 10 minutes for a table (during which we stood at the bar, but the bartender was too busy to say more than “I’ll be right with you”), and another 5 minutes before we got a waitress. Once we got our food, we waited 2 minutes for cutlery before I got up and acquired it myself.

For the daylighting foodies, I’ll mention the noms were okay. In the realm of Mexican cuisine, though, I hope that is an insult. Everything fresh, the ingredients were what you’d expect, but there was absolutely no flair. A packaged, frozen grocery hot dog can be microwaved and slapped on a bun and you can call it a hot dog. But that that absence of culinary passion is not what you get at any baseball game and it certainly isn’t excusable practice for a restaurant. José’s serves Mexican food in the textbook definition, but they do so dispassionately.

But on to the margarita. That’s right, singular. The look is strikingly similar to Border Café, but the effect is quite different. Seriously, how much is a breathalizer? I want to call the FDA and have them inspect the bottles that José’s calls tequila, because I’m pretty sure theirs was water and apple juice. The mix was actually decent, but there’s no way there was more than a quarter ounce of 80 proof tequila in that beverage.

Groupon is a great means for new restaurants to draw in new customers. Either José’s simply wasn’t prepared for the rush of new business or they should not have drawn attention to themselves as an established business. Cambridge–and in fact the greater Boston area–is sorely in need of a great Mexican restaurant. José has the look, but they absolutely need to work on their end-product. It is this margaritaddict’s sincere hope that they will and that when they do, then they’ll use Groupon to earn themselves another chance.

Rated: Top Shelf–Cuervo Traditional Reposado 100% de Blue Agave Tequila by Casa Herradura with a float of Contreau. $8.95

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