First Bite: Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar

Say salud to margaritas and fun, casual Mexican cuisine in the Back Bay.

Photo by Keller + Keller

Photo by Keller + Keller

THE BACK BAY’S NEWEST Mexican restaurant is, if nothing else, a seriously lively place to drink. There are 175 different tequilas poured at two handsome bars, plus a nice selection of skillfully made (if pricey) party drinks like sangria, mojitos, and margaritas. Bartenders don’t just pour well; they garnish well, making the drinks look like liquid jewels. And the room, formerly a Papa Razzi restaurant, is sexy and dramatic, featuring red lights, dark corners, lots of candles, and flocked wallpaper. It brings to mind a Mexican bordello for goths.

[sidebar]Lolita Cocina and Tequila Bar is also a little silly, but in a good way. As soon as you’re seated, a server appears with an amuse-bouche of grapefruit granita set over a bowl of dry ice. As the ice vapor flows witchily over the sides of the bowl, the server laces the granita with a shot (optional, of course) of tequila.

It’s a very clever approach. Because after a tour of Lolita’s menu, one truth emerged: The food is best appreciated through a light haze of alcohol. The winning dishes are not serious adaptations of regional Mexican cuisine, but instead street and party food: guacamole; chorizo “vertical nachos” (the chips stand up in a layered dip); tender pork ribs with a coffee-bean-and-chocolate glaze; and a cornbread with roasted garlic cream so delectable, I’d like to eat it on my deathbed. Even the free chips with three salsas were exceptional: fresh, warm, and cut very thick.

But the more ambitious items on the menu didn’t fare as well. The three ceviches tasted more of onion than fish. Pulled-pork tacos were too dry, while fried-shrimp Baja tacos were too greasy. And lobster enchiladas were just plain bad, the tough meat sitting in a too-cheesy sauce reminiscent of cafeteria food.

No, resist all seriousness here. Or perhaps just give chef Brian Roche, formerly of La Verdad, a little more time to get the entrées right. Until then, I can think of far less pleasant ways to spend a night than here with a house margarita, a bowl of guacamole, and a bite of the heady cuatro leches cake.

271 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-369-5609,