Location: 11675 Perry Highway, Wexford. 724-935-3559
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. noon-10:30 p.m.; Sun. noon-9 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $3-12, entrees $8-16
Atmosphere: Full-on fiesta
Liquor: Full bar
Smoking: Designated sections
Over the river and through the 'burbs, to eat Mexican food we go! When we heard that there was a locally owned restaurant in the North Hills serving Mexican food and maragritas, we set out immediately on the reverse commute to Wexford.
We arrived at Patron Mexican Grill on a Friday evening to a full parking lot and a crowded house. Though it was cold and dark outside, inside was a brilliant Mexican afternoon: The walls of the large dining room are washed in the saturated yellow of equatorial sunshine. Also adding color were the chairs, booths and benches, all elaborately carved and painted with scenes of Mexican folk life, including villages, flowers and birds. The effect, complete with faux tile roofs over the perimeter booths, is raucously kitschy and certainly festive.
With all those people, it was also noisy. Even though our party included not one but two small children, we had no fear that we'd be disturbing anyone else's meal. We'd say that perhaps Patron is not the place for an intimate rendezvous, but then again, it might be perfect: In all the din, who could possibly overhear your whispered secrets? In any case, our only complaint about the restaurant's interior was that cigarette smoke escaped from the bar in the rear and crept over nearby tables.
The menu was as busy as the dining room, with several pages seemingly dominated by a Mexican-by-the-numbers approach: nachos, burritos and enchiladas. Closer inspection revealed some more tempting specialties, with chorizo, a spicy sausage, in a lot of dishes. We ordered an appetizer platter to start, and took our time selecting entrees.
The sampler included a pair each of taquitos and chimichangas, a plain quesadilla, four small wings and a small bowl of "fiesta dip," a mix of refried beans, ground beef and pico de gallo, all topped with nacho cheese. If the ground beef in the taquitos and the shredded chicken in the chimichangas were both bland, with no discernable seasoning, the wings were at the opposite end of the spicy spectrum. They were so fiery that Jason reached for Angelique's water after draining his own. Their actual flavor was that of a faintly south-of-the-border buffalo sauce, achieved perhaps by substituting a Mexican hot sauce for the tomato-vinegary classic.
The quesadilla, also from the sampler plate, was soft, not crispy. The fiesta dip returned us to the land of the bland; although pico de gallo should add bright, fresh flavors, in this dip it was overwhelmed by the plain beef and beans. But the chips we had to scoop up the dip were good, crunchy and still warm from the fryer. The complimentary salsa was also fine. Pureed but not runny, it was full of the sweet and astringent flavors of fresh tomato.
Jason's entrée, chipotle el tio, faced no risk of blandness, combining spicy chorizo with smoky-hot chipotle chiles. These intense flavors were mediated somewhat by medium-size butterflied shrimp and melted cheese. The whole thing was mixed into a sort of casserole and served with flour tortillas for wrapping. The heat was ferocious, but the underlying flavors of chorizo, chiles, shrimp and cheese still came through in a pleasing blend, and the serving of shrimp was generous.
Angelique chose to test the kitchen's mettle on her favorite Mexican-American classic, enchiladas, and found it suffered from the same lack of seasoning as most of the appetizers. The tortillas, the ground beef filling and even the green sauce -- which should have been redolent of the tangy, fruity tomatillos used to make it -- were flat and virtually flavorless. Liberal dollops of Patron's tasty tomato salsa were needed to enliven this dish.
Dining companions' dinners were also a mixed bag. Choripollo featured dry chicken, but delicious crumbly sausage; shrimp quesadillas had big, hot, juicy shrimp but little cheese; and the hot cheese dip, queso fundido, was just spicy enough, with plenty of earthy peppers.
Overall, we found Patron good for a margarita-fueled night out in a fun and festive atmosphere, but its brand of Mexican food, featuring neither the flavor of better restaurants nor the authenticity of taquerias, wasn't enough to win us over.