Name: Margarita's Cantina
Location: 1166 Upper Front St., Binghamton, NY 13905
Phone: (607) 772-0722
Price: Around $25-$30 for two
Binghamton is a city with relatively few local options for Mexican food. There's Los Tapatios in both Vestal and Endicott, Delgado's in Johnson City, and the subject of today's review, Margarita's on Upper Front St. Margarita's is located almost exactly at the intersection of Route 11 (Front St.) and I-81, next to Sam the Beer Man. As a regular patron of Sam's I have often wondered about Margarita's but never bothered to give it a chance until tonight. What I found was a quaint little eatery with excellent service; the food was good, but not extraordinary.
Upon arriving at Margarita's we were greeted immediately and told we could sit anywhere we liked. After a quick scan of the small dining room, we opted for a booth and were quickly presented with menus and a basket of chips, and were instructed that we could pick any of their homemade salsas to go with the chips. There were three choices, a mild pico de gallo, a medium verde, and a hot salsa with a somewhat smoky flavor which I believe contained chipotle peppers. Naturally we opted to try all three. The pico de gallo was very good and extremely fresh, with a balance of tomato, onion, and lime. The verde was a little spicier but not too hot. It was good, but I preferred the other two. The hot sauce was my favorite of the three. Great level of spiciness with, like I said, a bit of a smoky sweetness to it. This was different from any salsa I am accustomed to, and I enjoyed it very much. So much so that I asked for another basket of chips after we voraciously polished off the first one, just so I could keep eating the salsa.
When it came time to order, I opted for carnitas, a marinaded, slow-roasted shredded pork dish that is a personal favorite of mine when it comes to Mexican cuisine. At Margarita's, it's served with lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, rice, and black beans with some flour tortillas on the side. I was enthusiastic about this dish. As it turned out, I found it to be alright, but not amazing. The pork was a hair on the bland side, less juicy and less seasoned relative to other carnitas dishes I've had in the past. That said, it was not bad at all, and I happily devoured every last bite. Megan ordered a burrito and had a similar reaction. She liked it well enough (well enough indeed to take the portion she couldn't finish home with us) but it didn't blow her away.
What did impress both of us most about Margarita's was the service. From the moment we walked into the restaurant until the minute we left, we felt very well taken care of. The waitress was truly exceptional. She was friendly without an ounce of artifice and offered quick service without hovering over us too much. We could tell she genuinely cared about whether we enjoyed the experience or not. Upon paying our bill, they even gave us some coupons to use for our next visit. I can say that the service we received tonight at Margarita's was easily among the best we've had at any area restaurant.
Obviously, we found Margarita's to be most impressive from a customer service standpoint. The food is definitely passable Mexican fare (the salsa being the highlight), and the atmosphere is low-key and mildly festive. I prefer the food at Los Tapatios for now, but the excellent service ensures that we'll be making a return trip to Margarita's at some point in the near future.