When I moved from Southern California to Cincinnati, I resigned myself to certain things: no flip-flops in January, no daily runs on the beach, and no good Mexican food.
All things have trade offs, I reasoned. And in exchange for not having to spend three hours a day in traffic, I would need to acquire a taste for Taco Bell. I'd just have to forget about fresh guacamole and warm tortilla chips, margaritas made without syrupy mixes and fresh fish tacos, pozole, tamales, and Mexican corn slathered with -- wait, where was I?
But then, like wandering into an oasis in a Doritos Locos desert, I discovered Mazunte. (Cue the shaft of sunlight and angels singing on high.)
Where: Red Bank Adjacent
Huddled between Cincinnati's iconic Rainbow Carwash and the new-fangled Red Dog Resort & Spa (built on the remains of the old Oakley Drive-In, may it rest in peace) is an innocuous little string of stores too small to be called a strip mall. It may seem like an unlikely spot for a new restaurant, but those of us constantly on the lookout for great Mexican know that these inconspicuous little spots often hide the most authentic food.
Ambiance: Beach town-chic
Mazunte blew my Midwest Mexican food fears out of the water before I'd even tasted a bite. On my first visit (back in mid-February), I walked through the doors into the smallish restaurant adorned with reclaimed wood tables and immediately began to thaw. Mazunte doesn't only import the food and ambiance of a small Mexican taco shop, it somehow smuggles in sunshine as well.
Instead of sitting and waiting to be served, you sidle up to the bar and place your order. Margaritas and sangria are self-serve from large glass dispensers and you can (and should!) grab your own beer or Mexican soda from a cooler filled to the brim with frosty bottles. The casual, "toss me a cold one" atmosphere strikes exactly the right tone.
The Menu: Delicious and Affordable
Start your meal with the complimentary basket of fresh, crispy, slightly chewy tortilla chips still warm and glistening with oil. Dip them in guacamole, a sampler of salsas, or white queso. But, whatever you do, don't pass them up!
Mazunte is one of those devilish restaurants where everything is so delicious you can't order the wrong thing. On the flip side, once you sample a dish, you'll likely be so love-struck you'll never want to branch out. The only solution is to bring friends and share bites of everything.
For those of you who require more individualized direction, the mixed tacos allow you to hedge your bets and taste a little of everything (although I'm personally partial to the perfectly cooked and seasoned fish tacos). If you're in the mood for a little fusion, the chiles relleno, a dish I usually avoid, is brilliantly reimagined with goat cheese, mushrooms, white bean sauce, fresh salsa verde, and crema. The description may not sell you but the dish will. The Mazunte team holdin' it down & cookin' it up.
The Bottom Line
Mazunte is like a little Mexican beach town still unspoiled by tourists. Selfishly, you wish that it would stay exactly like it is, perfectly preserved in time (and without an hour wait to get in the door **fake cough: Bakersfield).At the same time, you know you won't be able to keep yourself from posting your vacation pics to Facebook and telling everyone they just "have to go!" Somehow though, I think Mazunte will retain its charm even once the word is out. But I'd book your trip now, just in case.
Wanna check out Mazunte's perfect menu & vibes? Dive on in!
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NOTE: The story was first published on Sept. 10, 2014. It's been updated with a new gallery of pics.