Medina is about 50 minutes from Buffalo if you take the Thruway to the Pembroke-Darien exit and head north, a lovely drive in fair weather. I mention that for all the people in Buffalo who say how far they'd go for real Mexican food.
Mariachi de Oro is a real Mexican restaurant, serving food by and for Mexicans. It's run by a family from Oaxaca who have operated Monte Alban, a store nearby serving Mexican workers laboring in the region's orchards and farms. Leonel Rosario, an owner, said the family worked toward a restaurant for years, while selling tacos on weekends from the store.
During my weekend visit, half the tables were occupied by men in work clothes speaking Spanish. It's not Houston or Los Angeles caliber, but it's some of the most satisfying Mexican food I've had in Western New York.
Disappointingly tame salsa and chips started our meal. I asked for Chori Cheese Dip ($5.99), and got a cup of creamy white cheese sauce seasoned with orange chunks of chile-rich Mexican sausage. We dueled for the last drop and agreed we needed a bigger bowl.
The menu includes fajitas, ranging from vegetarian ($8.99) and seafood to deluxe fajitas for two with steak, chicken, pork, chorizo and shrimp ($20.99). The steak fajitas ($11.49) were seasoned well and smoky on their sizzler platter, but the beef was chewy.
There's chilaques, chalupas, tostaguacs and oddities like Enchiladas Potosinas ($8.99), described as a Central Mexican dish of handmade corn patties topped with potatoes, chorizo, lettuce, pico de gallo and tomatillo sauce.
There's also lots of seafood on the menu, reflecting the owners' origins in a village near the Pacific coast, Rosario said. The Huatulco Special ($12.99) is described as poblano peppers stuffed with shrimp and fish, topped with corn sauce and served with rice, lettuce and avocado slices. Coctel de Camarones y Pulpo ($12.99) is described as a traditional cocktail of octopus and shrimp with sauce, pico de gallo and avocado.
From the "Mixed" section of the extensive menu, I chose Santarrita ($9.99), a combination plate of pork tips in chile verde, steak strips cooked in rojo sauce, corn cheese quesadilla, avocado slices and tomato.
Cat asked for a side of three chicken enchiladas in mole ($6.49). We also ordered a plate of three tamales with ranchero sauce and cheese ($8.49), and tacos carnitas ($9.49), three pork-filled corn tortillas with tomatillo sauce, rice and beans.
The Santarrita's pork was outstanding, with tender meat in a piquant sauce of tomatillo, chile, cilantro and more. The brick-red sauce on the steak packed a load of chile flavor without being overly spicy, but I thought the beef too chewy.
The chicken enchiladas were delicious. Our server said the tortillas are made there each day, and they tasted fresh. The mole sauce was by turns sweet, spicy and complex with aromatics, with cinnamon and allspice notes.
The tamales were stuffed with moist chicken but its flavor faded into the corn dough underneath its piquant quilt of ranchero sauce.
The carnitas tacos' tender meat stuffing, topped with white onion and cilantro, made them a hit.
The fluffy rice was faintly orange with tomato and studded with an apparently frozen vegetable medley. The frijoles, refried beans, were surprisingly tasty, with the richness of lard and engaging spices. For the first time in forever, I ate them all.
Desserts included fried ice cream ($3.49), disappointing at one cereal-crusted scoop since the menu said two. Choco-flan, custard baked atop rich chocolate cake ($2.99) was sweet and fudgy.
Is it worth the trip? Depends on where you're starting from. Only you can decide whether you're hungry enough for a little drive in the country.
Mariachi de Oro
Oaxacan family's Medina restaurant serves satisfying Mexican fare that could be worth a drive.
7 (out of 10)
WHERE: 1417 Maple Ridge Road, Medina (585-798-8961).
HOURS: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sundays.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and lunches, $3.25-$9.49. Entrees $7.99-$20.99.
PARKING: In the lot.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.