I put in my time in Southern California, and fondly remember fleeing the plastic-faced parts of Orange County for vividly painted Taquerias, cheap grub and tasteless Mexican lager. I remember the Cervesa Pacifico signs glowing through glass, but I don’t recall ever seeing one rendered illegible in dense fog. That’s the sight that confronted me as we walked past the pretty horse chestnut trees and peered up State Street in Bristol. Far from dusty SoCal, this is bayside Rhode Island, and that means unpredictable elements. This weather doesn’t scream Sangria, but my desire for pico is timeless, so on we go to Nacho Mamma’s.
The window reads “casual Mexican food,” which perfectly sums up a menu that both knows its audience and is informed by other cuisines. Rhode Island does not have a large Mexican population, so why not have Caribbean Clam Chowder or a Portuguese Burrito? Similarly, burgers, wings and taco pizzas are an allurement to the common passerby.
Nacho Mamma’s makes their own chips and salsas, and takes obvious care in what they do. This may not be a place to find Tacos de Lengua as you would at a hardcore Mexican shack, but this is why they say comparison is the thief of joy. I set aside any Santa Ana snobbery and sat down for some damned good food.
The restaurant is situated nicely in the center of town. They left the sky-silhouetted “county cleansers” signage from the old dry cleaners on top of the building, and it just looks cool. Full panels of glass give you sidewalk views, and passersby a look at you at your salsa-spilling sexiest. There are a few tables outside as well, looking a bit hopeful on this particular drizzly day, but certainly of use when Bristol is hopping with foot traffic.
It’s all the bright colors you’d expect: lime green accents and orange walls, but it’s also thoroughly modern and clean. Spotless glass and bright hand painted social media signs at the counter, iPad point of sale, and a couple of eager little Scion iQ’s waiting to make deliveries at the curb.
You order at the counter, but the food is brought out when ready and presented with a bit of care on retro red polka dotted plates. This is a nice touch at the price. We started with Sweet Plantains ($4.25), which were served with a pot of Mexican crema, which is like a runnier, sharper sour cream. The plantain slices were lightly fried and the interior texture was not too firm, not too mushy, definitely worthy of burn-your-mouth-impatience. The crema is the perfect accompaniment, and my wife doused any burns with a pretty Sweet Berry, Coconut and Mango Sangria ($6.45), making for a bit of an island vibe.
We then tackled a trio of different tacos, each from $3 to $5. I liked how they didn’t simply lump them all in as some base formula with different fillings. For instance, the Flank Steak Taco used that oft scorned wheat tortilla, lettuce, cheese and a heaping pile of pico de gallo, whereas the Fish and Shrimp went with the traditional corn, curtido (taco cabbage slaw) mango salsa, salsa verde and cilantro. I wish they made some squid tacos instead of shrimp, given we’re in Rhode Island, but they give the people what they want.
Finally, I ordered a Chicken Quesadilla ($8.45). I usually don’t order quesadillas, but then again, melted cheese. I was hungry and there was lots of melted cheese. The beans and rice ($2) that I ordered with it to accompany were good, the quesadilla perfectly blistered and the pulled chicken was generous and nicely seasoned.
Everything about this place was fast food in terms of speed and lack of pretense, but the quality was a cut above in every regard.
76 State Street, Bristol