George

Among the nearly 100 restaurants in the North Conway, New Hampshire, area, we have now chosen a favorite — Margarita Grill. Here’s why.

Owner/chef Bud Selmi offers imaginative and very tasty margaritas ($8.50) along with a lengthy menu of southwestern and Mexican food at very reasonable prices. Oh yeah, Linda and I love Mexican. Bud also is focused on farm-to-table meats and produce, some of it including beef from a group of small farms organized as Maine Family Farms. When we visited in late September, Bud had recently purchased a $5,000 smoker from Humphrey’s in West Newfield, Maine.

Did I tell you Margarita smokes most of their beef? After four hours in the smoker, the beef goes into an oven for another five hours. I had read rave reviews online about their Smoked Beef Brisket Tacos ($12), so that’s what I ordered. As a guy who loves brisket, I have to say this was the best I’ve ever had. For a side dish I chose delicious, organic, spiced black beans, and you get a choice of tacos, soft or crunchy. I chose soft.

After we’d ordered guacamole as an appetizer (and yes, it was delicious), Linda noticed their Scallops Manchego appetizer with Maine scallops. Boy, would I have loved to try that. And the desserts were decadent, all made by one of the servers. But I had to agree with Linda — I was too full to appreciate them. So Bud sent us home with two large and scrumptious homemade cupcakes. OK, I had one as soon as we got back to our condo at Nordic Village Resort.

On a Sunday night, the place was packed, including a nearby table of folks from Australia, but service was swift. Our exceptionally friendly server, Tina, also recommended the Blacked Baja Fish Taco, just one more reason we’ll need to return to Margarita. But truthfully, it’ll be hard not to order the beef brisket tacos when we return.

Bud, recognized in 1999 as Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Association, is also a very friendly guy. He greets all customers when they enter, manages the flow in both the dining room and an adjacent bar, and visits with customers throughout the night. It was obvious that many were regulars here. We would be, too, if the restaurant was just a bit closer to Mount Vernon!

Linda

I enjoy many styles of food, but I have to say I adore Mexican food. We’ve visited many Mexican restaurants, but never one that has focused so finely on organic and fresh farm-to-table ingredients as Margarita Grill. Bud told us that since they adopted this philosophy three years ago, business is up 40 percent. That is a clear signal that diners care about where their food comes from and how it is raised and grown.

The atmosphere here is comfortable and cozy. Though it was very busy the night we visited, it was quiet. You could not only carry on a conversation, you could also enjoy the soft background music.

As soon as I read that the guacamole was prepared to order, I craved it. Truly great guacamole transports me to a very happy place. Indeed, their version was very fresh and not overloaded with lime and spices. It was a generous portion for two people, and who doesn’t love warm tortilla chips? There were plenty of heartier appetizers, but I would never forgo that fantastic guacamole.

Fajitas were delivered to the table adjacent to ours, and the aroma was heavenly. The steak strips came with fresh tomatoes and grilled vegetables. This was another big portion, and the couple who shared it must be regulars for they knew that the St. Louis ribs appetizer and this entree were plenty to share.

I wanted a sampler plate to get a better feel of the menu, so I chose the Mexican Combo Platter ($18). This held one brisket taco, one bean enchilada and one chicken burrito. What a plate of food! Luckily, they serve a small version of their burrito with this dish. Their chicken is smoked for two hours, and what deep flavor that imparts. The brisket taco was incredibly flavorful, too.

The side dish list is long and varied — potato, rice, broccoli, beans, slaw or salad. I chose the crunchy coleslaw, which was a good combination with the smoky meat. I did the best I could, but it looked like I barely got started at the end of the meal.

The menu features their farm-to-table partners, all of whom are listed, and includes details about the all-natural chicken and GMO-free oils for frying and tortillas. They have gluten-free tortillas available, too. But the box on the menu with their commitment statement says it all: “The difference is in our S.O.H.L. — Sustainable, Organic, Hand-crafted, Local. It makes a difference.” Indeed it does.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed in the “Best of Maine” section.


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