Think Inside the Box

Drive along the turnpike through Homestead and Florida City these days and you cannot help but recall the lyrics to "Little Boxes," Sixties-era folk singer Malvina Reynolds's famous tune:

"Little boxes made of ticky tacky/And they all look just the same."

Well, yes.


El Nachito

12795 SW 280th St, Homestead; 305-258-8154

Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

For those of us who cannot afford to slum next to Shaq on Star Island, the thousands of ruthlessly identical little boxes crammed like earth-tone sardines on acres of once-verdant land are the best we can do for home, hearth, and a mortgage that won't swallow our salaries whole. That's a lot of people, and they all have to eat.

One of the best places where all of those people can — in fact should — dine is El Nachito. Brought to you by the folks from Guadalajara in Pinecrest, El Nachito is one of the few signs of life in a just-birthed shopping center plopped in the middle of a vast field almost as empty as Paris Hilton's cranium. (Though by noon tomorrow it will likely be filled with thousands more townhouses and single-family homes stamped out like bottle caps.)

It would be nice if El Nachito's modestly piquant salsa was made 100 percent from fresh tomatoes, but perhaps that is asking too much of a restaurant where two people can gorge themselves silly for less than twenty bucks. On the other hand, the chips were fresh and crisp (our famous South Florida humidity can turn them into corn-flavor dishrags faster than you can say Dos Equis), and the thin, taquería-style guacamole was good — though served ice-cold.

The lengthy menu includes all the usual culinary suspects — tacos and burritos, tostadas and enchiladas, fajitas and gorditas, nachos and rellenos — plus soups and salads, a molé and a ceviche, and a variety of dishes featuring plump sautéed shrimp.

To clear a little space for the more exciting dishes, the tacos and burritos and flautas and tostadas are creditable efforts, nothing out of the ordinary but eminently palatable. Like most plates, they are served with your choice of sauces (a mild, dusky red or exceptionally well-crafted green) plus tender and flavorful shredded chicken or tender and flavorful beef braised with big chunks of chilies or (as a sop to gringos?) ground beef. Sadly only the much-better-than-ordinary tamales come with roast pork, an omission at least this pig-loving diner would hope to be soon remedied.

Now here is where things get interesting. Chiles rellenos are a lot better than average, too — fat poblano chilies made even fatter with plenty of that tender beef, cloaked in egg batter fried puffy and greaseless, crowned with a sultry ranchero sauce and molten cheese.

Enchiladas verdes with chicken and more of that terrific tomatillo sauce are in my favorite "suiza" style, named after Mexico's Swiss immigrants, who became a backbone of that country's dairy industry, hence the enchiladas' thick mantle of cheese and sour cream.

Chicken molé boasts pieces of boneless (alas, slightly overcooked) chicken in a rich, complex sauce with subtle chocolate overtones. And camarones a la diabla serves up a generous complement of thumb-size shrimp in a wickedly seasoned chipotle sauce that burns with a slow, smoky, and utterly irresistible fire.

Put out the fire with a large square of unconscionably rich and decadent flan, smooth and creamy and impossible to stop eating despite a density approaching that of heavy water. If you've been crying in your cerveza over the lack of good Mexican food in these parts, well, the little boxes beckon.


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