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Salud! It’s Cinco de Mayo: Five area Mexican restaurants offer standout menus and libations

UPDATED: Wed., May 5, 2021

By Kris Kilduff For The Spokesman-Review

Spokane and the surrounding Inland Northwest have no lack of simple, true-to-tradition Mexican food places where you can get enchiladas and an oversized margarita. The downside is that so many of them are offering the same menu with the same ingredients.

For Cinco de Mayo, I thought it would be fun to focus on five of our area’s best Mexican, or Mexican-influenced, restaurants who are offering standout takes on a beloved and traditional cuisine.

Each of these places are taking the extra steps to not only make your Cinco de Mayo sensational, but they also are using inventive ingredients and/or translative techniques to upend what we consider Spokane cuisine.

Cochinito Taqueria

I used to think a lot about “the perfect restaurant.” A place that serves comfort classics and cocktails with fine-dining techniques – but in a casual atmosphere. Chef Travis Dickinson’s Cochinito Taqueria hits every mark. His team and he consistently produce a menu that is as thoughtful as it is delicious.

There isn’t another place in town you could eat at every single day and get new takes on your food. Dine in for a Kobe beef cheek taco with grilled asparagus and mushroom salsa, or order takeout for house-made pozole that is stewed all day and topped with cabbage, poblano, radish and cojita.

What leaves Cochinito unparalleled is its attention to detail. Every ingredient and garnish serve a purpose, and you’ll never find a soul that complains about fresh-made daily tortillas.

What to eat: It’s pretty difficult to miss on a rotating menu that is full of the best tacos in the city. But, right now, I’m obsessed with the fried maitake mushroom taco marinated in chili garlic oil, fried crispy with all the toppings.

What to drink: A chipotle pineapple margarita with a gusano rim. Gusano is an agave worm salt that takes a margarita to the next level. Yes, worms.

If you go: 10 N. Post St.; (509) 474-9618; cochinitotaqueria.com

Nadine’s Mexican Kitchen

If you don’t mind a 30-minute drive, one of the area’s top Mexican restaurants makes its home in Rathdrum. In 2006, Sue and Dave Walsh made a dream come true while opening their contemporary Mexican and American fusion eatery.

With every element made from scratch, the menu consisting of options like Mexican poutine and a chicken fried steak served with green chile gravy and poblano mashed potatoes, became a huge hit. Nadine’s is the perfect place to take a family of foodies and picky eaters alike, especially when you can end the meal with a churro ice cream sundae.

What to eat: If there is anything better than a burrito, it’s when someone decides to deep fry one. Order one of the smoked brisket chimichangas, and you’ll no longer have a care in the world.

What to drink: Nadine’s has a nice little tap selection of beer and cider, but don’t skip out on the house sangria if it’s available. Wine and fresh fruit make an amazing pairing with a plate of rich and hearty Mexican food.

If you go: 8016 W. Main St., Rathdrum; (208) 687-6441; nadinesmexicankitchen.com

Zona Blanca

After a change of scenery, chef Chad White brought in the amazingly talented chef Jeana Marie from Los Angeles and recently relocated Zona Blanca to the Holley-Mason building. With a mix of vibrant atmosphere and inventive seafood-centric plates, Zona Blanca has carved a niche with no competition in the INW.

Offering bowls of tangy ceviche, market fresh oysters and creative takes on Mexican street foods, White and his team will dominate a category that relies far too heavily on nachos and tacos.

What to eat: If you’re new to ceviche, the menu can be a bit intimidating. Order the Tuna Tuna Peanut tostada. It has a mix of raw tuna, smoked tuna, peanut and chili oil. Something completely unique that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

What to drink: Mezcal. Whether straight or in a cocktail, Mezcal is one of the widest-growing sects in libations, and Zona Blanca offers a great selection.

If you go: 157 S. Howard St.; (509) 241-3385; limefishsalt.com

Choo Choo Tortas

If you love Mexican food and have yet to dabble in tortas, Choo Choo is a restaurant you should visit immediately. Nestled in an unassuming strip mall in Spokane Valley with a name that sounds like you might be shopping for toy trains, Choo Choo is one of the most underrated hidden gems in the city.

Not only does it offer a large variety of tortas and tacos, but there are also creative variations like the Campechano with chorizo and nopales (cactus). Dress orders in a wide range of condiments from the wall of hot sauces that would make any hot head weep.

What to eat: Choo Choo has a pretty ambitious menu. If it’s your first time, don’t stray from the namesake. The steak torta has next-level flavor and is a lunchtime favorite.

What to drink: You can’t miss the giant display of rotating agua frescas. Pick a flavor (my favorite is guava), and you have the best beverage possible for enjoying a sunny day.

If you go: 10621 E. Sprague Ave., Spokane Valley; (509) 891-0120; facebook.com/choo-choo-tortas-286244458388826/

Taqueria Guerrero

If you’ve spent any time in Southern California, you quickly realize that oftentimes the small, unassuming building that sits back a bit from the street is actually who is serving the best tacos. Taqueria Guerrero is exactly that in Spokane.

Operating with a brick and mortar and a roving food truck, the talented team is always the answer for anyone from the West Coast who is looking for a doppelganger of the tacos back home. No one here is reinventing the wheel, as every street taco served is living up to what made it a delicious but inexpensive quick-bite option in the first place.

Don’t be surprised if there is a bit of a wait. The secret is out, and hungry lunch-goers line up fast.

What to eat: Lengua. If you’ve never had beef tongue as a taco, you’re missing out. It is only served in the restaurant (not the truck). And make sure to also swing by Saturdays for a variety of amazing elotes (Mexican street corn).

What to drink: Mexican soda. If you haven’t had a Mandirin Jarritos, you haven’t lived. There are a variety of flavors, but drinking Mandirin as an adult is like what you remember Orange Crush being like as a kid.

If you go: 8021 E. Sprague Ave.; (509) 893-2281; facebook.com/tgtacotruck

Kris Kilduff can be reached at kris.kilduff56@gmail.com.

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