Unlike my dining companions, I was looking forward to trying SalsaRito, which opened six weeks ago in Tremont. Having the luxury of previously discussing the project with the owner in advance of an article, I understood the concept in ways that my friends did not. To them, SalsaRito sounded like a worst-of-both-worlds proposition, where they could enjoy neither their favorite Mexican platters nor spice-laden Indian curries. To me, however, the setup sounded compelling, a cutting-edge mashup where East meets West in delicious new ways.
In reality, our experiences landed somewhere in between, neither rising to my lofty expectations nor sinking down to my companions' negative preconceptions. Which is to say, none of us are ditching other plans to return anytime soon.
For roughly four years, owner Ashish Patel has been operating the successful Indian restaurant Tandul in the very same neighborhood, so he's no amateur when it comes to the industry. He described SalsaRito as essentially a Mexican restaurant, but one with some Indian spices and flavors incorporated into sauces, salsas and entrees. That became apparent almost immediately, when we detected the presence of ginger in the salsa that accompanied a basket of thin, crisp chips. With that one unconventional addition, our party began splintering into factions in favor of support and desertion.
From the outside, a quartet of deep-fried samosas ($5.99) looks identical to those served at any Indian restaurant, right down to the green and red chutneys served on the side. The twist here is the filling, a Tex-Mex blend of black beans, cheese and peppers that while hardly revolutionary is enjoyable all the same. The Mexican falafel tacos ($8.99), on the other hand, failed to summon the pleasures of a savory taco or fluffy falafel wrap. In the crook of the soft corn tortillas were dry, crumbly "falafel" balls made from black beans. They come topped with avocado, salsas and pre-shredded, bagged cheese and lettuce.
The bulk of the menu is comprised of nearly 20 varieties of burrito and enchilada, but it's often nearly impossible to distinguish one from another. Save for the titular ingredient, the paneer tikka burrito ($9.99), chicken tikka burrito ($11.99) and chicken and steak enchilada ($10.99) are nearly identical in construction. Large flour wrappers are folded around a small portion of the namesake item, which is overshadowed by an onslaught of sauteed peppers and onions. They all get slicked with sauce and sided by lackluster rice and beans.
The space, formerly home to roughly half of all failed Tremont restaurants, is attractive but blindingly bright. Service was fine, portions are robust, but the consensus was if management simply went with better-quality Mexican/Tex-Mex food, they'd win over a more sizable following.