Fells Point Tex-Mex Dead on Arrival
This location is closed
I will eat anything, any kind of food, no matter how strange or hyper-spicy or fetid-smelling. When the "weirdest thing you've ever eaten" topic arises, as it inevitably will during foodie gatherings, I almost always win. (Horse, wild boar, rattlesnake, iguana, blowfish, Japanese snake liqueur--I've tried 'em all). Most of the dedicated eaters I know are the same way; before you can open your heart to the globe's range of comestibles, you have to open your mouth, which means being willing to eat dog or hedgehog or slimy, stinky durian fruit when it's offered. (Dog lovers and PETA members, start those letters to the editor now!)
Of all the cuisines in the world, though, my eternal favorite is the conglomeration of U.S./Mexico border cookery styles known by its most popular subsets--Mexican, Tex-Mex, Southwestern, and nuevo Latino. Sadly, Baltimore has never had much in the way of Mexican restaurants, and most of the examples it's got are not so fab. So whenever a new one opens, be it a greasy, cheesy combo-plate joint or an upscale venue doing novel things with corn fungus, I'm there.
In the case of Armadillo's Tex Mex Café, however, I'm there once and once only. I wanted very much to like Armadillo's, and it does a few things well, but overall the food we were served had so many problems that I simply wouldn't go back. On the plus side, I liked the house margarita ($5.25). Armadillo's does not use fresh-squeezed lime juice--my Holy Grail is a nonchain Baltimore bar that does--but it does make its own sour mix, and it's very good. Mix that with some Cuervo and ice in a salt-rimmed pint beer glass and you've got yourself a respectable 'rita.
Other enjoyable aspects of the Armadillo's experience were the friendly, efficient staff; complimentary warm tortilla chips and mild, veggie-laden salsa that arrived at the table nearly the same moment we did; and the respectable chunky homemade guacamole ($4.95). It was pretty much downhill from there, suggesting that the people hanging out in the front of Armadillo's when we visited (the dining room was nearly empty) and treating it more or less as a bar/hangout have the right idea: Stop with the drinks and the chips and you're golden.
Alas, we kept going, starting with the black-bean soup ($4.95). Oy. It was a bowl--a big bowl, I'll give them that--of black beans with no discernable broth or flavoring, topped with chopped red onion and sour cream. "I'll bet they simmered these beans for whole minutes in the microwave after opening the can," observed my companion, who was fortunate enough to have ordered the veiga salad ($5.50), mesclun greens mixed with almonds, blue cheese, and tart Granny Smith apples, topped with a nimble mango vinaigrette. It was the most successful dish of the night, despite the fact that the kitchen makes up for the salad's decidedly nonborder pedigree by serving it in a fried tortilla "bowl," an unnecessary touch that simply did not work in this context.
The grilled chicken enchiladas ($8.95) were not a completely lost cause. Care had been taken with the chicken, which was tender and had a pleasantly tangy lime flavor. Unfortunately, the chicken was simply wrapped in tortillas and baked with cheese on top. That's it. Nothing else. Hello, can you say "chile sauce"? There was a flavorful pico de gallo of tomato, onion, green pepper, vinaigrette, and cilantro that would have gone a long way toward resuscitating the arid enchiladas, but the cilantro hadn't been washed properly and every bite was sandy, gritty, filling-grinding fun.
As for the pulled-pork tamales ($9.95), where to begin? The pulled pork was underseasoned, the masa dough was gummy, and the cornhusk wrappers had been rolled into the filling so that the whole thing fell apart when opened. The accompanying tomatilla sauce was vile--too bitter and scorched-tasting to eat. After a bite or two of both entrées, we each pushed our plates back and just sat there kind of helplessly, agog at the sheer waste of food.
Needless to say, we didn't order dessert.
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