Olé Mexican Grille
11 Springfield St.
Inman Square, Cambridge
Once again, the FM crack staff headed out together for a night of tasty tidbits and just plain boozing. For this slothful bunch, actually getting in a cab and heading to Inman Square (which is utterly walkable) proved to be a bigger effort than a usual evening of Tuesday night complaining and yelling. Since a party called, FM dined at the prime hour of five o’clock, before any normal people showed up to graze on Mexican fare. Olé’s claim to fame stems from its legitimacy—this is no Tex-Mex joint, this is real live Mexican cuisine. Two of FM’s staff wanted to speak Spanish to the Mexican waiters, but were too embarrassed to display their inadequacy. Rather, the creative director spoke in French. The point: there are real Mexican people working at this restaurant with real Mexican food. And the food is probably the best in Cambridge.
Besides the incredible guacamole hand-made in a stone mortar right on the table, the appetizers (entreplatos) range from the crowd-pleasing nachos to cheese, potato and chicken-filled taquitos. The Texan ordered some cheese relleno, which showed up in a narrow casserole dish and was consumed in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, the exquisite sangria was poured around and downed with grunts and slurps by the boorish and thirsty crowd. This was actually a sign of the sangria’s quality, rather than general disregard of manners. A lone editor tasted an extra sour margarita with lots of salt on the glass edge and pronounced it “superb.” Obvious margaritas with triple sec and tequila are on the menu, but Olé certainly caters to the yuppie set and provides specialty/boutique margaritas galore—in many colors and flavors.
Drinks aside, the tiny dishes of salsa, spice and unrecognizable smoosh were a welcome addition to the homemade tortilla chips—especially after everyone snarfed down the guacamole. Probably the best entrée of the night was shared at the end of the table and consisted of a big piece of meat. Carne Asada, a typical dish all over Latin America, is transformed into a culinary wonder in Inman Square. A thin, flat piece of beef somehow becomes infused with spices and tender love, only to be consumed at a great rate along with the surrounding black beans and rice. Another favorite among the FM set is the Tacos al Carbón, a taco dish that has a row of soft tortillas filled with chunks of beef and smothered in lettuce, onions and cheese. Once again, it’s important to note that these tacos are not the “Ortega” variety with a crunchy shell and processed cheese. Rather, Olé has created a Mexican treat that demonstrates to the unenlightened masses that Mexican means more than burrito and enchilada. In fact, it’s unlikely that the word burrito would even sully the menu of Olé.
Since no one else but the waiters was in the restaurant while FM was dining, commenting on the clientele would not mean much. However, from past experience, the Olé patrons are well-versed in the ways of Mexican food and are prepared to ask for their menu wishes in the accent of the Oaxacans. Typical Cambridgey people abound; sanctimonious and dressed in Birks and burlap, they feast on authenticity, while their Boston sisters simply eat because Olé was named “Best of Boston” about 800 times by Boston Magazine. For the latter, the magazine’s picks rate about as highly as a Zagat four-star. Anyway, Prada and tragically hip in the “I’m-wearing-ethnic-clothing-because-it-makes-a-fashion-statement” sense reigns in a restaurant that doesn’t struggle hard to maintain a Mexican patina. Aztec and Toltec and Mixtec objets d’ art abound, and the decor is suitably sunset yellow and darkened wood.
Olé, though barraged by a number of obnoxious and hungry students on this particular early evening, happens to be a prime venue for a romantic date. The food and drink are unusual and unbelievably tasty, the tables are intimately placed and candles flicker as pitchers of sangria and huge goblets of margaritas are placed in front of each happy couple. If anything, head to Olé simply to see the outrageous measures taken to produce a stone bowl full of guacamole.