Chef Rafael Palomino has been on a roll, expanding a restaurant empire that now includes Fairfield’s MESA, labeled a “Modern Mexican and Urban Taqueria.” The eatery, which opened in October at 2320 Black Rock Turnpike, has been growing in popularity with a local crowd that enjoys tasty cuisine in a relaxed vibrant atmosphere.
Palomino, who now resides in Bedford, N.Y., was born in Bogota, Colombia and raised in Queens, N.Y. He opened his first restaurant in 1998 -- Sonora in Manhattan. Its success led to the opening of Sonora in Port Chester, N.Y., in 2000, followed by Pacifico in Port Chester. Several more restaurants have followed, including Connecticut locales like Greenwich Tavern in Greenwich and Pacifico in New Haven.
“For the market, I thought it would be ideal to open a Mexican restaurant,” said Palomino, about the MESA concept. “Mexican is underrepresented in the area.”
Palomino modeled MESA on Rosa Mexicana in New York, from which he also hired the chef. “Mesa” is the Spanish word for table, and the restaurant really knows how to set one. Tables are splashed with yellow and pumpkin-colored cloth napkins, wall décor features colorful masks and artwork -- including a painting illustrating the Day of the Dead holiday -- and cacti in mini pots line window ledges.
From May 1 to Oct. 1, a patio will provide an added space to enjoy, while a large bar area, accommodating 45, is an inviting haven in the colder months.
“Family friendly, Miami oriented,” is how the chef described the atmosphere, so it’s no surprise that families and young professionals are the majority of patrons.
While the margaritas are popular, tequilas are numerous and there are a number of Mexican beers like Dos Equis, Negro Modelo and Tecate on tap, it’s the satisfying food that primarily attracts customers.
For Starters, which are priced around $9, chunky guacamole and chips is a hit, as well as quesadillas and empanadas. Tacos, at $9.95, include beer-battered “Baja” fish, Barbacoa with beef braised in chili, and Cochinita Pibil, which is pork marinated in achiote.
Sides include charro beans and grilled corn. Among soups, black bean and tortilla is available. Burritos, at $12.95 each, include beef, chicken and vegetarian.
Entrees range from $14.95 to $22.95, and are highlighted by the Fajita en Molcajete (steak, chicken or pork served in a volcanic rock dish with a cactus petal, scallions, Chihuahua cheese and red salsa), Carne Arrachera (grilled skirt steak marinated in epazote) and Costilla Bandera (short ribs braised in Negro Modelo beer).
A meal can be capped with vanilla flan coated with caramel sauce or churos (sweet fried dough with chocolate and raspberry sauces).
While established as a restaurant, MESA jockeys for attention as an entertainment destination as well. There is a happy hour every weekday, Thursday night is Ladies Night, a DJ spins tunes every Friday 9:30 to close and a Mexican brunch is offered every Sunday.
Trot on over to MESA, where there’s something for everyone in a relaxing setting.
MESA is located at 2320 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, CT 06825. PH: 203-372-2909. Online: www.mesamexican.com
Open 7 days/week, Sunday to Wed. 11:30am-10pm; Thursday to Sat. 11:30am-11pm; late menu at the bar Fri. & Sat. 11pm – 1am.