Mex and Match

Mex and Match

La Catrina and La Catrina, sister restaurants in West Haven and Milford, are named—and decorated—after a symbol that began in 1912 as an obscure satirical print. After a surge of interest decades later in the US, the image, featuring a gaudily dressed skeleton by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, evolved into an iconic “transcultural” totem recognized around the world today: the ornate, stylized, infinitely iterated skull symbolizing Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

Las Catrinas—the two restaurants—are likewise transcultural, serving up Mexican-American fare in West Haven and a menu that travels all over the map in Milford. I discovered the latter first, served out of a tiny shingle-paneled hole in the wall painted in bright red and yellow with south-of-the border decor. Diners receive complimentary homemade chips and cotija cheese-topped bean dip, a warm and welcome variation on the usual chips and salsa.

I followed that with an outstanding appetizer of Mini Tostadas ($13.99) piled with tender shredded and marinated chicken (tinga) and lettuce, sour cream and queso fresco. Gently spicy, the dish sparkled in my mouth and left me wanting more. My next course, the Elote ($6.99), was equally delicious, with the sweetest crunchy corn turned indulgent by slathers of mayo and cheese and tangy, spicy sparks of lime and chili.

I finished with the Ceviche Mixto ($24.99), featuring raw fish and shellfish—in this case, shrimp—cured in sour lime or other citrus juice and served with a mélange of tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, onions, cilantro and red pepper. I loved the blend of fresh seafood with lots of crunch and spice but had one quibble: The dish was drowned in lime juice, making it feel like a lime soup. It wasn’t a total turn-off for me, but a lot less of the lime would have gone a longer way.

Alongside the menu’s many Mexican- and Latin-coded dishes, I found a melting pot of options: 12-inch pizzas ($13-16), salads from beet to Caesar ($14.50-15.25), chicken strips with French fries ($8.99) and various sandwiches ($11.50-13.99), all of which—even the Chicken Milanese—are made with refried beans, mayonnaise, onions, avocado, tomatoes and jalapeños. I was intrigued by the Mexican Hot Dogs ($6.50-8.50), particularly the Xoloitzcuintle, featuring bacon, mayonnaise, ketchup, onions, tomatoes and jalapeños. Likewise, the breakfast dishes seemed like good options for a followup visit, particularly the breakfast burritos ($12.99-14.50), guacamole-and-egg toast ($6.50) and four-egg scrambles with rice, beans, avocado and tortillas ($9.99-12.99).

Beverages, meanwhile, range from Mexican and American sodas to agua frescas in pineapple and cucumber. I ordered a large Cucumber ($4.50), which was cuked to the max and left me feeling especially hydrated. The taqueria doesn’t have a liquor license, but my server described the sangria soda as close enough for jazz if not a true buzz.

La Catrina in West Haven, on the other hand, has a full bar, offering “classic” cocktails like the Caguamon ($15.99)—house-made sangrita, lime juice and your choice of beer with a shrimp garnish—and “signature” blends such as the K Special Cantarito ($14.50), which mixes frozen mango mix and Monte Alban Mezcal with a whiff of Smirnoff Tamarind, tajin powder and chamoy. I, for one, kept it simple with a smoky yet mellow house margarita ($12.50).

This restaurant seems more focused than its sibling on Mexican cuisine and offers a wider range of traditional entrées—though there are plenty of nods to classic American fare, including a New York Strip ($25.99) and what they literally call an American Cheeseburger ($16.99). I stayed south, ordering Enchiladas de Mole with pork ($19.99) that came with a super fresh topping of avocado, sour cream, onions and queso fresco. The pork was tasty and tender, and the mole was wonderfully sweet, rich and not overly spicy—although, like the lime juice in the ceviche, there was too much sauce for my taste.

Tempting dishes for another time included the Huachinango Frito ($23.99), a whole fried red snapper served with rice and house salad, and a fajitas special ($19.99-22.99) featuring steak, chicken or shrimp with mushrooms, onions, green and red peppers. I did indulge in a selection from La Catrina’s short list of desserts, the Tres Leches Cake ($7) topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of raspberry sauce.

As conclusions go, it was perfecto.

Written by Patricia Grandjean. Images 1 and 2 sourced from La Catrina in Milford. Image 3 sourced from La Catrina in West Haven.

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