2017-06-28 / Cuisine

Breeze into Las Brisas for authentic Mexican fare

They’ll never come close to the overabundance of Italian pizzerias and trattorias, but restaurantes Mexicanos are definitely gaining market share in the Southwest Florida dining scene, especially in Cape Coral. The city has long been ethnically diverse food-wise, embracing Thai, Cuban, Peruvian and German cuisines. (Would someone please open an Indian restaurant in the Cape?)

Leave the city limits for North Fort Myers, though, and the restaurants are far less international. Phensri Thai is a reliable option, and there are a couple of Mexican choices — including the small but impressive Las Brisas Restaurante Mexicano. The family-owned operation popped up a year ago on the north side of Pondella Road between U.S. 41 and Business 41.

The building used to be an accountant’s office, but you’d never know from the new barrel-tiled roof and terra-cotta colored exterior, or the turquoise interior walls decked out with rainbow-striped serapes and photo murals of postcard-perfect seaside scenes. It’s a cozy space, and some of the booths are a tad cramped; our party of four was a tight fit and our feet repeatedly tangled under the table.

Chicken enchiladas are covered in traditional Oaxacan “black” mole. Chicken enchiladas are covered in traditional Oaxacan “black” mole. The food, however, is worth putting up with minor discomforts. The owners have 16 years of restaurant experience, according to their website, and their cooking is authentic and wholesome. The wait staff may appear few in number, but servers are responsive and cheerful. They’ve already expanded the menu and lowered — yes, lowered — some prices since opening, according to a colleague who dines there regularly.

Before our drinks even arrived — chilled bottles of Negra Modelo ($3.50) and tall tumblers of sweet, floral agua de jamaica ($2.25) — we were served freshly fried tortilla chips with two salsas: a tangy salsa verde and a thin, smoky red sauce. Neither was aggressively spicy, but there are several hot sauces on the table if you want to ratchet up the heat on anything.

Chiles relleños, a battered and fried, cheese-filled poblano pepper.DREW STERWALD / FLORIDA WEEKLY Chiles relleños, a battered and fried, cheese-filled poblano pepper.
Don’t overindulge on the complimentary salsa and chips, though. There’s excellent guacamole to be had ($2.99 or $5.99). Unlike the over-processed pablum served at a lot of restaurants, Las Brisas’ guac boasts chunks of avocado along with diced onions and tomatoes. A healthy shower of crumbled cotija cheese on top was a surprise and brought a unique richness to the dip.

Another noteworthy starter: camarones Valentina ($8.99). Seven jumbo shrimp — two more than the menu stated — were smeared with spices and perfectly grilled to a succulent state. Was that bits of minced chipotle adding smoky heat? Whatever it was, these were tasty shrimp.

You might need to ask for sharing plates, but they’ll arrive promptly, as will drink refills and anything else you need.

Having additional diners on hand helped us cover a lot of culinary territory, so we could assess more of the extensive menu. But we still didn’t get to the fajitas, burritos or caldos. There are steaks for a very reasonable $12.99 to $15.99, but the majority of items are priced $10 or less.

You can build your own tacos with choice of tortillas and fillings for $1.75 apiece (99 cents on Tuesdays). Meats include ground beef, shredded chicken, grilled chicken, grilled steak, smoked steak, al pastor pork, chorizo and carnitas; fish or shrimp costs 50 cents extra. The shredded chicken and al pastor sprinkled with cilantro and onions were moist and flavorful, but the steak was dry and chewy, as if it had been cooked much earlier in the day. The tortillas were smaller than the standard taco size but were pliable and didn’t fall apart when we picked them up. A bowl of lime wedges would have been appreciated for spritzing.

No extra hit of citrus was needed for the zesty coctel Campechano ($13.99). Similar to ceviche, the dish consisted of chunks of shrimp and tilapia marinated in lime juice and tossed with avocado, tomatoes and cilantro. This would make a good appetizer, too, served with tortilla chips.

Although we ordered the chiles relleños with shredded chicken filling ($8.99), it contained only cheese. The poblano pepper was battered, fried and topped with a sweet tomato sauce with refried beans and golden rice on the side. Warmed tortillas also were included.

One of the better entrees, molé enchiladas ($11.99), has graduated from occasional special to regular feature and it’s easy to see why. Three enchiladas were stuffed with succulent chicken and topped with ebony sauce that gains layers of flavor from simmering — not just the signature hint of cocoa, but toasted sesame seeds, cinnamon, clove and more. Attractively drizzled with crèma and sprinkled with cotija, they were served with refried beans and buttery golden rice and a little salad garnish of diced tomatoes and shredded lettuce.

Desserts may vary daily, we were told. Skip the outsourced trés léches cake ($2.99), which was filled with overly sweet canned fruit and lacked the usual lush milkiness. Go for the house-made flan ($3.99), which is firmer but no less delectable than the Cuban version.

As its name implies, Las Brisas is a fresh breeze on the North Fort Myers dining scene. ¦

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