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Marvelous and On Central

Linares offers subtle pleasures

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Linares is a city in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, north of Monterrey in the Sierra Madres; a land once populated by prairie dogs, low-growing vegetation, and cacti. These days the area is densely populated and is a prime cattle region. In Charlotte, Linares Mexican Restaurant, also known as Taqueria Linares, is a small outcropping along Central Avenue that caters to families. Many tables are configured for large groups and food on the menu is sold in individual and family-sized portions.

Owner and Chicago native Hector Trevino splits his time between this restaurant in Charlotte and the Pollos Asados El Norteno Mexican restaurants near Atlanta. "The Spanish community in Charlotte is growing by multiples each year," he noted. "There is much opportunity in Charlotte." He bought the Charlotte restaurant two years ago and has since incorporated El Norteno fare into the Linares menu. Linares' offerings, which primarily feature the cuisine of northern Mexico, have the feel of two distinct menus complete with different fonts; in fact, the lengthy roster of items tends to be overwhelming.

Language isn't an issue with the servers if you stick to food items: it was more complicated trying to understand what Mayor McCrory was saying on the front page of the new Que Pasa newspaper. The menu at Linares is written in both English and Spanish, although some categories, such as the Parrilladas de Mariscos, are exclusively in Spanish.

While you wait, munch on the complimentary crispy made-in-house corn tortillas presented with two sauces, one spicy, the other spicier. Also available is the salsa bar, which features five salsas from across Mexico. Quesadillas, either wheat flour or corn, are only $1.50 and most people order a number of these. Ordering only one solamente may cause the server to lower her eyes to mask her amusement which is understandable given that this is the American restaurant equivalent of ordering a single chicken wing. Who does that?

Linares sports a cheerful interior. Paneled walls are dotted with black and white photographs of Mexico while large comfortable green booths line up under expansive windows. The center of the dining room is strung with colorful ceramic peppers and a few grey donkey-with-sombrero planters dwell on the side walls.

Most importantly? The food at Linares is marvelous. Sure, you can have enchiladas, tamales, carnitas, or tacos, but why would you when Linares offers much to explore. After all, Mexican food is a blend of indigenous and European cultures and regional agriculture: corn, rice, limes, avocados, tomatoes, chocolate, beans, chilies and herbs in complex combinations. Mexican cuisine is so much more than greasy chips smothered with melted processed yellow cheese. (Although, hey, Linares does offer shrimp smothered in cheese whiz on the kids' menu.)

First up was the "Gee, did I finish the whole thing?" plate-filling Cubano sandwich ($4.99), a hot off the press sub sandwich loaded with ham slices, chorizo sausages, a fried egg, a hot dog, segments of avocado, tomatoes, onions, and melded together with a mild white cheese.

On the lighter side was a salad ($9.50) of small bites of nopales cactus leaves, which create a spark when mixed with an abundant amount of small tender shrimp, and mellowed with a generous sprinkling of crumbled white cheese. Many of the dishes come with either rice and fries; or frijoles charros, a pinto bean chili; and/or a salad.

The traditional Mexican fare of Parrillada Linares ($12.99) was a hearty portion of sliced beef, a lesser cut and subsequently impenetrable; slices of char-grilled chicken, and three fried jumbo shrimp. Served with this was an excellent fresh tasting guacamole.

Tacos are $1.50 and offered along with burritos, sopas, gorditas with pork, beef tongue, brains, beef cheek, tripe, chicken or chorizo. Thirteen hot shrimp dishes are offered as well as an intriguing assortment of tostadas including an octopus tostada. Dishes range from $5, with most entrees falling below $14.

This is not border food. The kitchen at Linares imbues a soulful touch to dishes, producing solidly good, simple but subtle, family-styled, primarily northern Mexican food at reasonable prices.

Eaters Digest
Baker and self-described farmers' market enthusiast Peter Reinhart of Johnson & Wales University, Charlotte, will give a talk and sign copies of his most recent book American Pie, My Search for the Perfect Pizza at the Matthews Community Farmers' Market at 9am Saturday, June 26. The book will be available for sale at a 10 percent discount. Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread was the recipient of the James Beard Foundation's Book of the Year Award in 2001. The Matthews Community Farmers' Market is open on Saturdays from 7:15am until noon, through November on Trade Street near Renfrow Hardware in downtown Matthews.

You know the wine business in North Carolina is making a significant impact when a North Carolina winery teams with Fine Furniture Design & Marketing of High Point, a furniture company, to produce a line of furniture. RayLen Vineyards has a furniture collection "meant to be savored" produced in a "Yadkin Valley finish, a vintage rich brown hue, Bordeaux crackle finish, reminiscent of black currant, and Private Reserve, a unique hand-painted finish." Locally, Boyles Furniture carries the RayLen line. For more information: www.ffdm.com or www.raylenvineyards.com.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com

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