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La Veracruzana serves up fresh, authentic Mexican food

Jess Watsky/Collegian

Fall is beginning to set in on Amherst, and the temperature is finally cool enough for eating spicy foods. As the air first becomes chilly, La Veracruzana is the subject of many a customer’s search of a great selection of Mexican foods.

At 11 in the morning at the restaurant, the smell of meat and oil lay redolent in the air. Taking a seat at a table, featuring a pleasant mosaic of colors, the time comes to order. For anyone with a craving for traditional Mexican dishes utilizing ingredients difficult to find anywhere else, customers get exactly what they pay for.

The homemade drinks are a definite boon to La Veracruzana, providing a silky and obscure flavor to contrast the spices, for example, the tamarind juice and the hibiscus juice.

Both juices are cold, refreshing and very flavorful. The tamarind it the better of the two, achieving a balance between a slightly sharp tang on the tongue and a simultaneous sweetness numbing its spice. There is a pulp at the bottom, but the overall flavor and texture is consistently zesty and very unique. The hibiscus is equally as tasty, but not as innovative as the tamarind. It maintains a classic herbaceous fruitiness and a deep, sugary flavor. Both beverages are served chilled.

One of the unique aspects La Veracruzana can boast of over other area Mexican restaurants are its free salsa bar. Provided one does not fill an entire water glass with salsa, eliciting a vicious and volatile reaction, a person can happily subside on chips and dip for dinner with any of their five varieties without searing their tongue off. Of the five in the bar, two of the best are the chunky Pico de Gallo and Scotch Bonnet Diablo sauces. Both are smooth and spicy, have an impressive amount of piquant flavors for such a small portion, and taste really fresh. Their salsa verde stands up well on their chips and dishes, providing a robust flavor.

The tacos come out on plates as bright as the mosaic tables beneath them, a cheerful platter of toppings piled on a double layer of corn tortillas. The varieties of tacos are many, featuring fillings such as chorizo and egg for a breakfast appetizer and an entrée of ‘lengua,’ beef tongue.

Each taco is brilliantly formed, and the tortillas all are lightly grilled, tender and never gummy. The chorizo and egg is incorporated into a filling that makes it impossible to tell where the meat ends and the egg begin. It is delicious and spicy, with a cool, crispy lettuce and tomato topping to calm the tongue. The spices are not too overwhelming, and the chorizo shines through. The sausage is not greasy at all and plays nicely with the other flavors.

Another taco option consists of cactus leaf, an unfamiliar ingredient. It is enhanced with refried beans on top and the obligatory julienned lettuce and tomato. The pieces of the leaf are grilled with a slight char and firm to the touch. The texture is juicy and the flesh tastes like green beans, with a slightly pickled flavor. With the creaminess of the refried beans, the cactus leaf is different and exciting to encounter. The tortillas stand up well to both of these fillings.

The lengua taco is a spicy, saucy taco. This is the hardest to pick up and eat with one’s hands, as the meat and oils seep through both layers and poke through. Nevertheless, this is the most tender and juicy beef tongue anyone’s ever likely to have had the pleasure to ingest. It is flavorful and well seasoned, but not too salty, and it’s cut into small cubes, braised on each side. The sauce is not too thick and heavy and doesn’t weigh down the overall dish, while the flavor is intense but not overwhelming.

To counteract the feat of devouring strange appetizers, go for a classic Mexican comfort food as an entrée. The enfrijoladas, fried corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and covered in black bean puree, sour cream and cojita, epitomize delicious mush. In ordering these, it is almost upsetting that it isn’t a little chillier or rainier, because the overall comfort and warmth of this dish is enough to defrost Siberia. The soft corn tortilla is buttery, the cheese oozes out and the black beans are pureed into a decadent sauce perfect for sopping up with rice on the side or with extra chips. The cheese and beans are not heavily spiced, but can be used creatively with the aforementioned free salsas to add as much or as little heat to the dish as one pleases – a sort of “spice your own” dish.

La Veracruzana is a staple on both sides of the bridge and offers a traditional and bold menu for those nights when Schlocko Bell ain’t your gig. With a bright atmosphere that mirrors the bright, sassy dishes it serves up, it’s a winner on any night of the week, cold weather or not.

Jess Watsky can be reached at jwatsky@student.umass.edu.

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