Habaneros takes Mexican cuisine to a new level

    Crunchy fried chicken tacos with rice and beans at Habaneros Mexican Restaurant. Photo by Jordan Marie McCaw

    It can be difficult to choose Mexican cuisine in the Rogue Valley. Sometimes it comes down to who makes the best street tacos or the biggest burritos.

    Habaneros Mexican Restaurant has served authentic and fresh Mexican dishes since 1996, and it still impresses diners today with its culinary displays.

    The extensive menu ranges from larger, meat-heavy dishes to simple meals such as quesadillas and enchiladas. The drink menu is no different, listing several cocktails and beers on tap. The Jalapeño Cilantro Margarita ($8.50) is a concoction featuring freshly minced jalapeños and cilantro served in a salt-rimmed glass. The Moscow Mule ($7.50) met the standards of the classic gingery cocktail served with a lime wedge.

    There were a few jalapeño seeds in the margarita to give it a small kick, but I would have liked it a bit spicier.

    The restaurant’s open dining room is decorated with brightly painted walls and south-of-the-border artwork. The bar offers a few booths and plenty of bistro tables. We saw several customers in the bar, and the dining room was quiet, but not too quiet.

    Our waitress gave us plenty of time to mull over the menu and ask for suggestions.

    We ordered a steak quesadilla ($10), fish tacos ($14), al pastor tacos ($14) and the Burrito Yucatan ($13). Each dish was served beautifully on its own large platter. The tacos stood in a steel holder, making them easy to lift. The quesadilla was cut into large slices, and the burrito was cut in half and lightly dusted with paprika.

    Most burritos are served uncut and smothered in red enchilada sauce, sometimes with a side of rice and beans. Slicing the Burrito Yucatan in half made it easier to cut into, and with no sauce present, the tortilla didn’t become soggy. It was served on a plate that included scoops of sour cream and fresh guacamole. Filled with Spanish-style rice, achiote-marinated chicken, pickled red onions and black beans, the burrito was peppery and tangy.

    The steak in the quesadilla was as tender as the chicken in the burrito, and it touted a smoky flavor. A simple dish like a quesadilla can leaves a diner wanting more, but this one was plenty due to the large tortilla and generous amount of cheese.

    The fish tacos can be either grilled or fried. We went with the fried option and weren’t disappointed. The fish rested on a bed of fresh coleslaw and was topped with chipotle sauce and cheese held together with flour tortillas. Each crunchy bite of the fish was satisfying, and the chipotle sauce brought out the freshness of the meal. Spanish-style rice and pinto beans topped with cojita cheese were served alongside the tacos. Beans and rice are usually what’s left on the plate, but the black beans made a perfect addition to the tacos, and their quantity was not overwhelming.

    The al pastor tacos consisted of pork, pickled red onions, cilantro and corn tortillas. The marinated meat — popularized in Central Mexico by blending dried chiles, pineapple and spices — began with sweet notes and ended with an underlying spiciness. The pork wasn’t too spicy, but just enough to make the tip of the tongue tingle. Like the Burrito Yucatan, the pickled onions on the tacos were a fitting, tart addition. The pork was marinated well. The second highlight of the dish was the corn tortillas. They weren’t too chewy and didn’t fall apart after the first bite. The dish also was served with Spanish-style rice and black beans.

    Other dishes listed on the menu are certainly enticing enough for a return trip to the restaurant. Next time, there are prawn tacos and chicken smothered in chipotle sauce to try. Past dining experiences at Habaneros have always been good, but this visit made them pale in comparison. The plates were artful, the salsa spicy, and each dish brought its own authentic Mexican flavors to the table.

    Habaneros Mexican Restaurant, 142 N. Front St., Medford, is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, and 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday. The restaurant also has a banquet room for special events. Call 541-779-9770.

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