Westerly's Amigos is an excellent culinary destination
Here in our part of the world, the closest Mexican cities are Reynosa and Matamoros, which are just south of McAllen and Brownsville, Texas, respectively. If, then, you wish to properly observe El Dia de los Muertos — The Day of the Dead, formally celebrated each Nov. 1-2 — you need to head about 2,122 miles southwest.
Or you could just head to Westerly and have lunch or dinner at Amigos Taqueria y Tequila on Canal Street. The popular restaurant is heavily atmospheric with distinctive El Dia de los Muertos décor and symbols.
In fact, despite some prime window seating in both the dining section and the large bar area, over time I really like being at the table in front of a massive Day of the Dead wall display. A small placard suggests the colorful and haunting presentation is the Amigos' version of a museum exhibit, but I prefer to believe its purpose is as an actual altar to Those Who Have Gone Before Us.
The rest of Amigos is also heavy on the character, with more DOD iconography and more whimsical décor such as soccer jerseys representing favorite indigenous teams, artwork, and even a wall full of sombreros for sale at a very reasonable $6 each. This caused a bit of discussion: is it any longer acceptable to either display a sombrero in one's home or wear one in public without incurring cancel-culture/appropriation wrath?
ANYWAY, it's fun to spend some time in Amigos, is what I'm trying to say. And, for the most part, the food and service are enjoyable as well. A few weeks ago, on an only moderately crowded weekend afternoon, we were seated by a host and then waited, well, quite a while before a waitperson appeared. Things got better after that and, on a second visit, the service was happy and outstanding — from knowledgeable tips and exclamations to providing eco-friendly packaging for leftovers including extra chips to go with take-home salsa and guac.
As my wife Eileen is a vegetarian, an intriguing aspect of the menu for us is the beyond the usual bean/cheese/veggie-fajita choices she has. For example, she tried the tempeh tostada ($15, also available with tofu), which includes refried beans, cotija cheese, lettuce, sour cream, tomatillo and guajillo salsa on a fried corn tortilla.
She loved the huge platter of three slightly puffed corn tortillas topped with the above ingredients piled high. The rich and earthy black beans and cotija cheese were balanced by the tangy tomatillo and guajillo salsa — all accompanied by sides of rich beans and flavorful Mexican rice.
In that spirit of availability, the entire menu is expansive and creative and dances back and forth between Tex-Mex classics and more continental fare from Mexico's interior and seacoasts. Yet despite the range of possibilities — there are, for example, almost 30 different soups and appetizers — the recipes are clever and nicely prepared.
Given those many options, I went crazy and ordered ... a seasoned ground beef burrito. Hey, there's a reason burritos are popular, and if $13 seems a lot, please know the creation was sufficiently large to merit its own zip code. The beef was spicy without requiring a fire department, and the mix of Mexican rice, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato and crema fresca provided a nice collision of textures and flavors — all tucked within the enormous flour tortilla.
On a return visit, we started with a one-two punch of freshly crafted guacamole and salsas with freshly fried and sturdy tortilla chips. The guac had a bit of appreciated spice, boasted chunks of avocado — as opposed to having been whipped smooth — and finely diced bits of onion and tomatoes. Excellent! The salsa seemed at first too ketchup-y, but I have to admit it grew on me.
Eileen had an excellent Bloody Mary, served — yes! — in a see-through skull glass. Her food choice was a Chayote squash salad ($10). Chayote has a texture like a not-quite-ripe pear, a little watery, and there's a hint of sweetness. Grilled and julienned in the salad, it provided another layer of texture with the crispier julienned beets, the creamy avocado, the tangy goat cheese and the smoky tempeh. Each bit was texturally and tastily different. The dressing was mayo-based with a slightly cloying undertone. On its own, the dressing doesn't sound that great, but it was exactly what the salad needed to pull it all together.
I asked for a daily special of grilled mahi mahi tacos ($21), and the waitress apologetically returned to say they were out of mahi mahi; would red snapper work instead? Why, yes! Love red snapper. The fish was incredibly fresh and had that just-charred taste to go with a light dusting of what seemed to be cumin. The hunks of fish were laid delicately across a tart but almost honeyed cabbage slaw. The blend was delicious, but the construction of the tacos was such that I ran out of fish before slaw. I sorta wish the fish would have been under the slaw, if that makes any sense.
On each pilgrimmage, we had more than enough food to take home, and the menu's so large and intriguing that we'll definitely be back, seated, hopefully, by our Wall of the Dead.
If you go
Amigos Taqueria y Tequila
2 Canal St., Westerly
amigosri.com (401) 315-5800
Cuisine: Tex-Mex and continental Mexican with expansive and creative menu
Atmosphere: Exotic and heavily emphatic on Los Dia de los Muertos
Service: A bit slow on the first visit; above and beyond excellent on the second
Prices: A little high but the quality is very good and the portions are enormous
Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily, weekend brunch 10 a.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Sharp right turn inside main entrance to dining room; otherwise plenty of space