It's a Tuesday night in the O.C., and Mesa is abuzz with a low murmur of conversation. Three couples and a group of four populate the soft brown velour banquettes and chairs; with only 40 seats, four tables is enough for the place to feel alive.
We take a seat at the gray concrete bar and rest our feet against the distressed wooden planks that line it. The interior is warm and inviting, utilizing shades of burnt orange, beige and chocolate. Weathered brick runs the length of the back wall, adorned with small cacti and tiny gold lights
Tucked into an unassuming storefront on Jefferson, between quinceneara dress shops and taquerias, this tiny restaurant and bar serves up "coastal Veracruz cuisine." (Read Scott's full review here.) The liquor selection is well edited, with a wide selection of tequilas of varying ages. No Jäger or whipped cream vodka here.
The cocktail menu (developed with the assistance of Eddie 'Lucky' Campbell of Bolsa) offers a small selection of drinks mostly inspired by traditional Mexican beverages. The Jamaica Paloma blends a jamaica (hibiscus flower) infusion with Ketel One, lime and grapefruit, while the Mesa Horchata spikes milky, cinnamon-y housemade horchata with Ron añejo tequila that's been infused with coconut and vanilla. Both of these drinks are dangerously smooth and go down as easily as the non-alcoholic versions you'd find at your favorite taqueria. We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday), when cocktails are just $5.
If you need something to buffer all that alcoholic goodness, order the Surtido Veracruzano (a sampler of various appetizers including enfrijoladas, housemade corn tortillas dipped in a flavorful black bean puree and topped with queso fresco and crema) or wander down Jefferson to one of the many taquerias open late into the night for a torta the size of your head.
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Whatever you do, don't miss the Toritos, recommended by the bartender as an after-dinner drink. The chef's special peanut-infused cachaca (a Brazilian sugarcane liquor and the star ingredient in a caipirinha) is shaken with sweetened condensed milk and a dollop of peanut butter and served on the rocks. Sweet but not overly so, cold, creamy, and unmistakably peanut buttery, it's like the delicious love child of a White Russian and a jar of Jif.