642 Monmouth St
There are plenty of restaurants in town that claim to serve genuine Mexican fare, but this little eatery on Monmouth Street in Newport is a magnet for the local Hispanic community - always a good indicator of authenticity.
La Mexicana doesn’t sport the usual trappings associated with chains - sombreros, piñatas, chili pepper-shaped dinnerware and extended happy hours with jumbo margaritas - and the menu offers only a handful of choices, but if you are hankering for delicious, authentic burritos and tacos in a rather spartan setting, this is the place to go.
I was a bit wary of giving this place a try, mainly for fear of lard lurking in the legumes, but when I asked, our friendly server assured me that their beans are 100% vegetarian. As with most Mexican restaurants, you get a basket of chips and salsa while perusing the menu. The difference is that La Mexicana's salsa is a fabulous homemade guacamole that is refreshingly light with just the right amount of heat. It is nothing like the thick pasty stuff you find at the grocery.
The menu lists the basics: tacos, burritos, tortas, gorditas, quesadillas and sopes, then you decide which filling you would like from a list of 20 items, which includes vegetarian beans, chile relleno (poblano pepper stuffed with cheese), flor de calabazas (seasoned pumpkin flowers), hongos (seasoned mushrooms), huitlacoche (seasoned corn flower), queso (chihuahua cheese) or queso con rajas (chihuahua cheese with jalapenos). Selections come standard with onion, cilantro, tomato, cheese and lettuce. Only the burritos cost more than a fiver; they come with the addition of beans and rice. It's great value for the budget conscious.
For non-vegetarians there are the usual suspects like chicken, steak and pork, plus some very interesting traditional choices like birria (seasoned goat), tripa (beef tripe), lengua (beef tongue) and sesos (beef brains). Be as adventurous as you like!
La Mexicana also offers larger meals like flag burritos (traditional burrito covered with green salsa, sour cream and red salsa ala the Mexican flag), enchiladas, tamales and mojarra (talapia)- all are dinner-sized and come with beans and rice. I was intrigued enough to order the vegetarian flag burrito, and it proved to be an excellent choice. It was delicious and massive - so much so that despite my best efforts, I could not finish it. The burrito filling had layers of delicately seasoned beans, cheese, cilantro, rice with a hint of lime and a cornucopia of veggies: corn, peas, carrots, and lima beans, topped with sauces bursting with flavor. It was incredibly fresh tasting and not at all what I was expecting. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
The restaurant serves a variety of soft drinks; choose from bottled Mexican Coca-Cola, Jarritos, Sidral Mundet (apple soft drink), Sangria Senorial (non-alcoholic sangria flavored soft drink), and Mansanita Sol (fruit punch). They also serve horchata (rice water), coffee and Mexican and American beers. If you venture to the back of the restaurant you'll discover a small bar with a television and posters of Hispanic futbol stars. It looks like a good place to watch the beautiful game. If you continue through the bar and around the corner you will stumble into the attached Mexican grocery - perfect for picking up authentic ingredients to help you replicate the dishes at home.
La Mexicana may have a Soviet-style utilitarian interior, and could really benefit from double-glazed windows to help keep out the cold, but what it lacks in décor it more than makes up for with delectable, no frills Mexican food.