Location: 2019 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill. 412-521-3250
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 5-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, soups and sides $1-8; entrees $12-15
Atmosphere: Neighborhood taqueria
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Designated sections
The Downtown Cuzamil does a brisk lunch business, ofering Mexican food, but it was Cuzamil’s new Squirrel Hill location, complete with separate bar and dining room, that drew our attention one evening.
In some ways, Cuzamil’s menu lists lots of familiar-to-Americans (as opposed to simply Americanized) Mexican items and generous combo platters. But a quick tour of the taco list suggests that Cuzamil has more to offer. In recent years, several authentic taquerias around town have taught us what Mexicans really put in their tacos, and it's not ground beef. More typical fillings are spicy chorizo, marinated pork, shredded, stewed chicken -- and tongue, which we confess we haven't tried. Yet. Cuzamil's menu includes them all.
So Jason ordered up a triple-taco plate. The soft tortillas were fresh and the simple toppings of lettuce and cheese by turns crisp and creamy. But the meats within were superb, each better than the last. The chorizo was rich with cumin and roasted chiles; the chicken tinga was moist with smoky notes evocative of the chipotle peppers used in its cooking; and the pork al pastor was meaty but tender, its simple marinade allowing the meat's flavor to come forth. Jason struggled to decide which to finish first, and which to save for last. (For the record: He finished with the superb chorizo.)
As with the tacos, Cuzamil's quesadilla appeared to follow a simple formula, but the fillings told a different tale. The cheese was generous and melty, but it was the pot-roast-like beef that again took center stage. It was so tender, the kitchen must have let it fall off the bone onto the waiting tortilla; its long-braised flavor infused every bite.
We polished off the plate in between slurps of albondigas -- Mexican meatball -- soup. This was full of well-seasoned meatballs and chunks of satisfyingly salty cheese in a slightly greasy, pleasantly spicy broth.
Angelique ordered an entrée of pollo en mole verde, chicken breast in her favorite green pumpkin-seed sauce. The chicken was juicy and the mole was balanced among the tang of tomatillos, the piquancy of chiles, the brightness of cilantro and the nuttiness of the seeds. A small salad of lettuce flavored with lemon and guacamole made a fresh accompaniment.
Jason was looking forward to his camarones de ajo, in which shrimp are traditionally sautéed in oil intensely flavored by copious garlic. However, while the shrimp themselves were good and plenty, Cuzamil's preparation tasted like shrimp scampi, lacking the heady garlic infusion that is the hallmark of the Mexican dish. The bed of Mexican rice was also uninspired, a bland combination of soft orange grains and overcooked peas and carrots which did not evoke Mexico for us.
Still, with many good dishes and some that are downright superb, we raise a margarita to Cuzamil, a welcome addition to Pittsburgh's growing Mexican dining scene.