With four new openings in the past few months, everyone has a theory about the popularity of Mexican restaurants. "They are the number one growth in restaurants right now because Latinos are a growing part of our population," surmises Jimmy Hayward, general manager at Zocalo Mexican Grill & Tequileria. That East Fourth Street venture has had a few months to settle in. Even newer is Agave, a sort of upscale sister of the Luchita's clan.
The baby of the batch, Agave Tequileria & Cocina in Crocker Park is just shy of its one-month birthday. Named after the cactus plant that produces the intoxicating drink, Agave features more than 70 different tequilas — manager James Vecchio favors the pomegranate margarita and says chilled Patrón Silver tops the customer's list. The tapas-based menu ($9-$15) offers customers a wide variety of flavors. So what's the star of the menu? "It's hard to say, being three weeks in, but our ceviche, crab cakes, carnitas and tilapia are very popular," Vecchio says.
Meanwhile, the second location of Villa y Zapata quietly set up shop in the old Lozada's space on W. 25th St., in Ohio City. It doesn't have a liquor license yet, but co-owner Lucrecia Santiago expects business to boom. The food ($10-$15), especially the popular chile rellenos, entices customers, so does the name. "People always ask us what it means," Santiago says. "We tell them it's named after the revolutionaries Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, not 'village' and ‘shoe' [the literal translations]."
And the venerable-but-past-its-prime Klucks on 117th is gone, replaced with the punchy colors and festive air of El Jalepenos, an offshoot of North Ridgeville's Fiesta Jalapenos.
But for all those windows opening, a couple doors have closed ... maybe. Luchita's station on Shaker Square is closing up shop on December 30, with the owners citing nothing more than just being tired. But, says co-owner Alex Galindo, "it's not going to affect the other restaurants."
Over in Tremont, however, La Tortilla Feliz is scheduled to close December 29, but there's a glimmer of hope for Feliz fans. "We may not actually be closing for a while," says owner Nicholas Dykema. "We may try to stay open on the weekends."