Rio Tomatlan in Canandaigua: A Guru Review

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I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with Puente Flamenco, but they are a local Flamenco troupe that performs at various restaurants in CNY. They generally stick to tapas restaurants and the occasional Mexican restaurant. I mention them because we went to Canandaigua’s Rio Tomatlan very recently to see the show and also try out this very cool and very unique restaurant. It’s a true test of a place when you write a review from an experience during a busy night with a special event going on, but that’s what I’m here to do.
Sometimes I feel the need to do some investigating in other cities around Central New York. I’m always surprised with what I find in and around CNY, from local coffee roasters to authentic, delicious Mexican restaurants. You gotta admit, Syracuse–like any other town–has its limits. So off to Canandaigua! I’ve never really spent much time in Canandaigua but it is a very unique city with tons of great local bars, restaurants and more. North Main Street readily showcases block after block of old school storefronts which house all kinds of small business. Like much of CNY, it is a very historic area but that doesn’t mean you can’t find awesome, innovative places to eat, drink, etc. Case in point, Rio Tomatlan.

The relatively small Mexican restaurant and authentic Tequila bar is located on Beeman Street on a somewhat industrial looking block. As soon as you approach the front door you start to expect good food–it just has that unmistakeable vibe. Inside you’ll find some of the coolest wall paintings and other work blending vaguely Catholic imagery and urban art like graffiti. Aside from the more installation-based work like a giant Virgin Mary-esque woman holding a can of spray paint, much of it is for sale. The dining room is covered in one artists work ranging from $200 and up. Obviously this is not totally unique but certainly something that adds an infinite level of culture to a space. I’ve still never seen such large permanent art in a restaurant–if you sit in the front dining room, there’s no way you can miss it. Also look for the amazing skeleton wall art in the bar area (look up).

As I said, we were there during a Puente Flamenco performance and ended up eating after with the entire ensemble and family. The performance was excellent as always; I’m a sucker for the intricate guitar work and rhythm of this art form. I tried the guacamole during the performance and couldn’t believe how good it was. I’m very picky about guac but Rio’s now ranks as my favorite. I guarantee you’ll love it–very fresh with just the right amount of cilantro and lime. It comes out on a nicely garnished plate with an avocado pit in the center. The chips were homemade and came out hot and crispy. The pico de gallo was outstanding as well. Rio Tomatlan impresses from the first bite.

The menu is great as well–traditional items like sopes, pozole, queso fundido, hongos, flautas and cerviche are instantly noticeable. On top of this you’ll also find a section dedicated to camarones (shrimp) with several different preparations. Aside from cerviche, most of these items are impossible to get in Syracuse and often lacking in quality. For those with large appetites (me) or simply interested in trying a bunch of food, there are combination dinners as well–a super-affordable option. They have a small selection of excellent craft beers and an entire menu dedicated to Tequila. There are over 20 of each age Tequila–blanco, reposado and anejo. There are even rare “reservas” ranging up to $40 a shot. Top it off with a selection of Tequila flights from $25 and you have a serious contender for best (only?) Tequila bar in Central New York. You wouldn’t believe it from the outside.

Now about the food. We ended up with so many dishes including mussels, queso fundido (amazing), sopes, enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas and much more. I got a chance to try almost everything, but I just don’t have enough room for it all. I’ll focus on my specific order (as much as possible). I ordered chips and guac (which I already described) a margarita with the house Tequila, and the combination called “Tampico”–mole enchiladas and a sope. Too much, I know. The margarita came out in a wine glass with a salt rim (thank God, I hate when places use sugar). I haven’t had a classic margarita in a long time, despite it being one of my favorite drinks (when correctly executed). This one was excellent. A strong, citrus sweetness perfectly shielded the Tequila’s harshness and the salt tied it all together. Like most cocktails, a well-made margarita has many elements that need to be balanced. Rio Tomaltan did it just right, which I sort of expected given their vast Tequila knowledge.

After snacking on about 4 or 5 different appetizers, drinking another margarita and a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, my Tampico combination dinner arrived. It came with Rio Tomatlan’s homemade rice and a side of re-fried beans. If I remember correctly it also had lettuce on top. It had 3 blue corn enchiladas with queso Oaxaca and delicious but extremely dangerous escabeche peppers or more simply, pickled jalapenos. Obviously I know blue corn tortillas are common but you can never find them in Syracuse, so for me it was an added bonus. The enchiladas were topped with a deep brown, extremely aromatic mole. I also had one sope, which is a sort of ground, fried masa cake with pinched sides. It almost looks like polenta. It was topped with beans, chicken, salsa verde, crema, romaine and cotija cheese.

I started with the enchiladas. The mole was very complex, with a peppery sweetness and slight bitterness that I’m assuming comes from the chocolate (also assuming it was Oaxaca-style mole negro). Combined with the queso Oaxaca, hot pickled jalapenos, chicken and coarse blue corn tortillas it was perfect. I got through most of them without a break. Then my attention diverted to the sope. It was exactly as I described above. The texture of the corn was really nice–that perfect coarseness that indicates freshness and that it’s most likely homemade. The sope was thick enough to use a knife but still tender. Topped with all the ingredients Rio’s sope is a must-order, you will love it no matter how you order it. The stand-out for me was the salsa verde. It has a very fresh and tart flavor with just enough spice and a strange, thirst-quenching property. I highly recommend getting extra no matter what you order at Rio Tomatlan.

Flawless as far as I can tell and my new favorite Mexican restaurant in CNY, Rio Tomatlan is worth many, many rides to Canandaigua. Prices are affordable. The Tequila menu is extraordinary. All the food I tried (a major percentage of the menu) was fresh, delicious and–dare I say–authentic.

Rio Tomatlan in Canandaigua: A Guru Review
5 Beeman Street, Canandaigua (Directions)
(585) 394-9380

Hours:
Tuesday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Disclaimer: All Guru Reviews reflect my OPINION based on a real experience at various Syracuse restaurants.

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