Brand-New Restaurant Tour: Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina

Achievement: #79. 10 ‘Newbie’ Restaurants

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow your author… err… blogger to take a moment prior to your diving-into of this entry to inform you that what you are about to read is merely a prologue. It’s like a movie trailer, drawing you in, enticing you to rush past the throngs of screaming teenage girls at midnight, just to finally see that full movie at the very first moment you’re able to. It’s that delightful little goat cheese truffley thingie that makes you go, ‘oh gawd I can’t wait to taste the steak.’

Because this entry is about a happy hour trip we took to a restaurant where we are very, VERY enticed to taste the main course.

Last Friday, on another rainy Pittsburgh afternoon, we (were smart and put in reservations far in advance and) went to Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina in Garfield for drinks and appetizers, prior to the monthly Unblurred gallery crawl.

Angry Lucy
It did take a little bit of effort to get out of the house, what with the rain, and the ‘seriously are you guys going out for Mexican food and not bringing me’ Death Stare of Lucy. But we made it, and just in time, because that place gets PACKED on a Friday night.

Verde is located (cleverly) in the big green buildings right on Penn Ave across from the Glass Center. We’d met the owner, Jeff, last month at one of the Restaurant Week events, but each of our attempts to actually eat at the place were thwarted by the massive crowds of other people with the same idea (see previous comment re: reservations).

But 5:30 on a Friday night is just the right time to hit Verde: they’ve got a happy hour each evening from 5-7pm, featuring $20 margarita pitchers (regularly $26). We were able to split this pitcher between three of us and feel plenty good after. This was a really good blend of tequila and non-tequila. While I feel that shouldn’t be such a hard thing to do for Mexican restaurants, somehow, so many get it wrong. I appreciate a bartender who isn’t overloading you with sugary mixers.

While we were hotly debating our menu choices (hard to pick shared options for three people, believe it or not), we got this massive plate of chips and salsa. This is the first place I’ve been to that doesn’t bring out a traditional red salsa. Okay, I get it, the name is Verde, the building is green, the salsa is green but… this was SUCH a good idea. Why isn’t everyone making green tomatillo salsa ALL THE TIME? It’s like the flavor of the Herdez salsa verde that I’m a touch obsessive about, but with all the chunky delight of a thick veggie salsa. And as if this wasn’t enough, Jeff was gracious enough to bring over a second round to our table, with some of their spicy chipotle.

Can we just take a brief moment here, in honor of the smokiness? I mean… Not that I’m a chef of any sort, but I have done enough wine tasting in my day to understand the importance of smokey balance. It’s super easy to go WAY overboard and over-smokify (yeah, you read that) your wines, your sauces, your salsa. But this? This was that hint of smokey that made you go, “Dang, I could use a little more smokey.” And then, before you know it, you’re eaten the entire salsa serving and angered your fellow diners, who didn’t get any.

Anyway. I digress.

When we finally came to a consensus on our order, we decided to split two appetizers between the three of us. I’d had my mind made up on one of them since I saw the word ‘flautas’ on the menu (seriously, why are flautas so hard to find??). But we were at a loss as to where to go next. Our server JJ suggested the empanadas, and we were *almost* sold on that… until he told us the special: pork belly croquetas.

I swear, I’m going to have to start writing down the daily special ingredients as they’re rattled off to me, you know, prior to the arrival of the margarita. So, I can’t say much else in specific about what was in or around these babies, but I can say that it was amazing. Again, just that hint of smoke in both the flautas and the croquetas. And yeah, I had a nice first croqueta back at Black Bean, but this blew them out of the water. These croquetas were so light, like how-can-I-wrap-my-mind-around-the-fact-that-these-are-fried light. Whatever the dippy sauce underneath them was, I’m in love with it. I dipped croquetas in it, I dipped the flauta lettuce in it, I dipped some tortilla chips in it… It was awesome.

Honestly, if I had more room in my stomach, I would have pushed for the full dinner. But on Unblurred nights (that’s the monthly gallery crawl known as First Fridays that we attend as often as possible), there’s a lot of seeing to do in a short amount of time, so we had to be on our way.

And that’s why, without a doubt, we’ll be back for another round at Verde. Stay tuned… 🙂

1 Comment

Filed under #79, #79-12, garfield, mexican food, restaurant

One Response to Brand-New Restaurant Tour: Verde Mexican Kitchen & Cantina

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *