Surviving the Jinx

It was literally only days after Lime Fresh opened last spring that people began asking me what I knew about it. This was surprising for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its location in one of Miami Beach's jinx spots. Several quite respectable little eateries (including an inexpensive and tasty Jamaican joint, and a place that did excellent prepared party foods) had previously occupied the space but folded quickly, probably because the location is just a few blocks too far south of Lincoln Road to be a natural rest stop for the crowds of shoppers and moviegoers on foot. And as a drive-by, the narrow and unimpressive storefront was just too easy to miss.

Lime, on the other hand, looks good, chiefly because, unlike its unfortunate predecessors, it features an outdoor dining patio along the side of the building, lending it the aura of an informally hip hangout rather than a hole-in-the-wall dive. Early word of mouth on the Mexican fare was pretty good, too. Still I stalled. Though the restaurant quickly became popular, it was, after all, just another "quick casual" franchise, and the menu I picked up one day was supremely uninspiring -- the usual array of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, and nachos, plus a few salads that sounded no more exciting than chain stuff. Also there were no homemade, soft corn tortillas like those typical of Mexican street stands -- just standard crisp corn or soft flour shells. Fillings were limited to beef and chicken (or beans for vegetarians) -- no pork, fish, or shellfish.

Since those early days, fresh fish and shrimp tacos ($3.25 for one; three for $7.50) have been added to the menu, and both were quite good. As opposed to Baja Fresh's fish, which is deep-fried, Lime's fresh mahi mahi was grilled, making it healthier. Thanks to marination and precise timing, though, neither the fish nor small shrimp sacrificed taste to health; both were moist, sweet, and tender. The classic white sauce that tops fish tacos in Baja California was absent, but an admirable substitute was close at hand: some creamy cilantro dressing left over from a starter of battered, deep-fried jalapeños, poppers that were indeed incendiary (their seeds had not been removed, seeds being the chief source of the chili's heat).


Lime Fresh Mexican Grill

Lime's other three taco varieties were equally good, and less expensive -- $2.75 each or three for $5.99 for chicken or ground beef, 35 cents more for steak. The grilled poultry chunks were amazingly moist; skinless breasts overcook to dryness so fast that far fancier restaurants rarely serve up such juicy white meat. Diced steak had a nicely smoky, charbroiled taste. But the most pleasant surprise was Lime's remarkably well-seasoned ground-beef filling, nothing at all like the shredded cardboard you find at most taco joints.

Fajitas ($7.99) were disappointing, however. Though the steak and chicken had supposedly been soaked in the same marinade, and cooked on the same grill as the taco meat, they were overdone blandness personified. Grilled onions and peppers were also flavorless. And the accompanying guacamole was watery and unappetizingly brownish; homemade it may have been, but a long time ago. It's also available à la carte for $3.39, but save your bucks for a beer. The half-dozen other housemade salsas, available free from a serve-yourself bar, are all much better.

Tortillas at Lime, incidentally, aren't housemade. The thin, crisp corn shells are fried in house, though, and so tasted far fresher than most packaged tortillas. Flour tortillas were similarly delicate, and when served warm had a nice chewy texture.

For those who know and crave real Mexican street food, Lime isn't the border-town taco stand of your dreams. But its fare is considerably healthier than that found at Americanized Tex-Mex fast-food outlets -- and immeasurably more flavorful.

1439 Alton Rd, Miami Beach; 305-532-5463. Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.


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