Margaritas Grill brings Mexican staples downtown

by Brian Clarey

Everybody, I assume, is talking about the new Mexican restaurant that has taken over the space vacated by SkyBar on Elm Street. But I don’t now for sure – I haven’t seen everybody in a while.

Anyway, I was curious so I stopped in for lunch last week. And at first blush the place looks great.

It seems smaller in there, with rows of booths along the brick walls and a grid of tables on the new tile floor. The old VIP loft is now a dimly lit lounge area and curtains block the entrance to the upper room. My server informs me there may soon be a smoking section up there if the business takes hold. There’s a new bar tucked into a corner underneath a shingled hutch and the lighting is adequate and elegant.

It’s hard to believe I once interviewed the Playmate of the Year in this room. Such is progress.

Margaritas Grill is not looking to reclaim the nightlife scenesters that once haunted this enclave. It will sink or swim strictly as a restaurant that attempts to hustle the patrons out by midnight.

And in my estimation the place should survive the vagaries of the downtown business climate.

More on that in a minute.

The lunch menu is a predictable slate of standard Mexican fare: tacos, burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, poblanos and the like, albeit a dollar more expensive than in some other locales because, let’s face it, this is downtown.

The dinner listings show some enterprise, with four steak selections and a couple Caribbean chicken dishes alongside the usual suspects of fajitas, camarones and such. Most promising among them, to my eyes, are the Pollo Tropical with a pineapple cream sauce, the ceviche tostadas and the Margaritas Mash, a ribeye with “special mushroom sauce” and mashed potatoes (I’m a sucker for special sauces). But I should emphasize that I haven’t actually tried these dishes. I went in for lunch.

And lunch, it seems to me, is what’s going to keep this place afloat. It’s the only Mexican restaurant in the district, for one, and just being in the middle of all those hungry workaday cubiculleans walking the sidewalks at noonday mealtime should fill the booths a few days a week. The food is hot, relatively cheap and it comes out quick. And Greensboroans have already proven their penchant for this type of Mexican food (though Jordan Green will never get his head around it).

Dinner may prove to be a challenge for Margaritas, considering the spate of eateries that now exist on this strip. But again, the food is a proven commodity and it’s likely people will come for it.

The main reason: Location. Say it three times, people. And the good news is that downtown Greensboro is becoming the sort of place where you can park your car and then decide where you want to go for dinner.

But here’s my suggestion.

What Margaritas Grill needs, besides an apostrophe, is to take a page from Miami (or New York or Chicago or San Francisco) and get away from the standardized Mexican cuisine that this town seems to love so well. I propose they hire a real chef and charge him with the creation of an exciting Latin menu with the kinds of dishes unavailable at the other taqueria-type joints. Give us some paella, pupusas or adventurous tapas. Get funky with the pork and do something with yucca we’ve never seen before. Create a tropical drink menu and put little umbrellas in the glasses.

But then, looking at the precarious business situation in Greensboro, particularly for independently owned restaurants like this one, maybe they should stick to the tacos and queso.

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