For years, I’ve wondered when Lockport would get its own Mexican restaurant. Medina has one, and even Albion, perhaps related to the seasonal influx of Mexican workers in the fruit groves along Lake Ontario.
In August, Aguacates, which is Spanish for avocado, opened in a former pizzeria on South Transit Road. A recent dinner there showed it can deliver competent Mexican cuisine for gringos, from minimalist guacamole to a fried tortilla sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for dessert.
The dining room is brightly lit and decorated in walls the color of adobe and guacamole. Aguacates’ menu is standard Western New York Mexican fare, which is to say Tex-Mex, with more than 50 meal options.
Mexican fans have seen this menu before. There are combination plates ($8.99 or $9.99) where you can choose from burritos, chalupas, tacos, enchiladas and the like. There are burrito, enchilada and quesadilla plates, steak dishes, chicken breasts in an array of settings and pork carnitas.
Our server brought us a basket of warm tortilla chips and salsa poured from a small carafe. He was swift with water and my Jarritos orange soda ($2.20). I noticed later that horchata, or rice drink, is on the menu.
What followed was an average Mexican meal, by Western New York standards. That’s still excellent news for Lockport fans of Mexican cuisine, who previously had to drive to Niagara Falls, Medina or Amherst for a taste.
When I say average, I mean it was plentiful food, hot in temperature, yet mild in seasoning.
The smooth guacamole ($3.50) had fine flecks of cilantro and scallion, but no chile or garlic that I noticed, which is an observation, not criticism. I like my guacamole on the minimalist side, with a few lumps, even. Queso fundido ($6.75) was a small bowl of white Velveeta-like cheese with lumps of chorizo hidden in its depths. When stirred, the chorizo fat turned it orange, as it should. This chorizo added more color than flavor, though, and I wished for more spice.
A tamale ($3.25) was dense corn dough wrapped around shredded beef. Chile relleno ($3.85) was a small piece of chile pepper and cheese that had been dipped in batter and fried. Ordered a la carte, both were covered in a reddish-brown gravy that tasted like tomato soup with a dash of chile powder.
Carnitas ($12.25) was a plentiful serving of tender pork shoulder that had been slightly browned before plating with beans, rice and a dab of coarsely chopped pico de gallo. The braised pork was moist, the beans blandly earthy, the rice firm and orange.
Enchilada supreme ($11.25) promised beef, chicken, cheese and bean enchiladas. These were corn tortillas rolled around the fillings, topped with more of the tomato-chile gravy, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. The shredded chicken was tender enough, and I again wished for a hint of a kick in the sauce.
The server did not ask how I wanted the steak in my steak chipotle ($13.75) cooked, and for that price I wasn’t expecting much. What I got was a pleasant plate, centered on a half-inch-thick piece of ribeye that had been griddled to a crusty brown. It was gray inside but not too chewy, and its cause was helped by a creamy sauce that smacked of chipotles, which are smoked, dried jalapenos. It was delicious and surprisingly mild, considering that there were largely intact peppers in the sauce.
Cat’s camarones al moje de ajo ($13.99), which is shrimp in garlic sauce, was an abundant helping of plump shrimp sautéed with fresh tomatoes and lots of chopped garlic. It was simple and satisfying. Like the steak and the pork, it came with griddled flour tortillas, and we used them to assemble our own tacos.
Dessert was mostly successful. Rich flan custard ($3.75) didn’t need to be crowned with whipped cream and chocolate syrup and a maraschino cherry. But that was the dessert finishing move, appearing on the fried ice cream ($4.75), sopapilla ($3.10) and deep-fried tortilla-wrapped cheesecake ($4.75).
The fried ice cream was disappointing, its cereal flake-coated sphere of ice cream arriving with a crust that was chewy and tasted like oil. The sopapilla turned out to be a fried flour tortilla. All the cinnamon sugar, honey, whipped cream and chocolate syrup applied to it couldn’t make it the puffy fried dough of my sopapilla dreams. I liked the gooey hunk of cheesecake in a golden fried tortilla crust, but I can be a sucker for cheesecake.
One thing not average about our Aguacates meal was its speed: this was fast food, in the best possible sense, with entrée plates landing on our tables about 15 minutes after the dips arrived.
Considering the alternatives within a half hour’s drive, I was reasonably satisfied with our meal. It’s comparable to El Ranchito in Clarence, La Tolteca in Amherst, or Agave and Don Tequila in Buffalo. The only stumbling block is its lack of alcohol, which may be a temporary issue.
Despite the absence of margaritas, if I was in Lockport and wanted Mexican, I would go back to Aguacates. I mean, it sure beats the heck out of Taco Bell.
Aguacates - 7 plates (out of 10)
Competent, fast delivery of standards gives Lockport a real Mexican restaurant.
WHERE: 5674 South Transit Road, Lockport (280-3785)
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $3.50-$7.95; combination plates, $8.99-$9.99; entrees, $8.99-$16.99.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.