The Fat Cactus is a recent addition to the Route 1 dining scene. The name conjures images of the desert southwest and a blend of Mexican and American cuisine. Two subgenre's of this fare are tex-mex and cal-mex, neither of which are well-represented in the Boston-metro area. The Fat Cactus continues this unfortunate trend and adds a dose of confusion.
The FC bills itself "A Mexicali Cantina." Okay, fair enough. They have set our expectations. But wait, the wildly painted restaurant has a picture on the wall of people dancing and exclaiming "Let's conga!" (Cue needle scratching over record.) The conga dance is neither Mexican or Californian. It's a Cuban carnival march. Uh oh, the confusion begins.
The interior is festooned with bright colors and empty beer and liquor bottles hanging from the ceiling. The staff is pleasant and efficient enough, but neither the employees or the atmosphere can make up for the lack of continuity in name, menu or food.
On the surface, the menu contains the usual suspects...burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and chimichangas. But things are amiss.
I started with the "queso fundido." Traditionally this dish is served as a melted cheese with rajas (roasted poblano peppers) and Mexican chorizo sausage. It is scooped with a spoon into a warm tortilla. At Fat Cactus, it is what everyone else calls chili con queso. More confusion.
And the kitchen staff really fell on their face with the queso. It was clearly microwaved, which by itself is not the ultimate sin, but they did not bother to stir the cheese. What arrived was a large bowl of melted cheese on the perimeter and a cold glob of less-than-room-temperature cheese in the middle.
I give them partial credit for their burrito. The FC is one of the few restaurants in Boston to understand its traditional construction. Theirs contains meat, spices, onions and perhaps peppers. They leave the rice and beans on the side where they belong. I had the shredded beef burrito with tomatillo sauce. The texture of the beef was akin to pulled pork, very tender and juicy. But it shared something else in common with its porcine cousin...it tasted like barbecue. There was nothing remotely Mexican or southwestern tasting about it. In the end, it was not horrible but it failed to meet my expectations. I wanted 'south of the border' noth south of the Mason-Dixon.
A similar fate was met by the beans. They offer black beans (again, more Caribbean than Mexican) or pinto beans. Strangely, they do not offer refritos (refried beans). I chose the pintos. Those from the southwest would recognize them as frijoles a la charra. That is, a soupy pinto style soup/stew. The appearance was promising but the taste was wacko. I swear I tasted allspice or five spice powder. Did someone misplace the cumin?
In the end I doubt I will go back. The Fat Cactus is just too confused and confusing. Someone needs to get it focused on the mexicali genre if it does not want to put more people off.
For more information:
The Fat Cactus
Lynnfield, MA 01940