Just a few minutes’ walk from the College Avenue parking lot, I stumbled upon Mexeo, fit tightly in a building at the end of Dryden Road. A mix of modern ambient music and the fiery scents of Southwestern cuisine greet customers when they pass through the main door. The building itself is small—it reminded me of a storefront delicatessen found along the streets of New York. There are two counter bars and two tables for seating—approximately 15 total could fill the restaurant. And those lucky few who can squeeze into Mexeo are in for a delicious meal.
Local food reigns supreme at Mexeo. Hanging above the main counter is a large white marker board with the original sources of all ingredients used in cooking. Just below the board, two employees cook and prepare all dishes right behind the counter, which is painted to resemble the state flag of Texas. While you wait, you are treated to the simple performance that is the browning of tortillas, chopping of vegetables and simmering of meat.
Contemporary art canvases line the walls and offer a colorful balance to the tan interior. The place appears cluttered with various objects, including a 1970s mini fridge, yet it is in no way distracting or uninviting. The casual environment means that the hours it is opened vary, so call ahead before heading over.
Formerly the Vietnamese Xeo Café, Mexeo is owned by its head chef, Sebastian Villa. The restaurant has only been open since October, and its menu has expanded over the months. Behind the limited menu is a philosophy that combines traditional Mexican cuisine with the owner’s Southern Texan background. A sign on the wall informs customers not to expect “traditional ‘Mexican’ food”–elaborate toppings and burritos are not going to be found. The dishes are simplistic, focusing on a few good ingredients rather than a cornucopia. Guests are welcome to choose from five different types of taquitos: one beef, one steak, one pork and two vegetarian. Other dishes include a Mexeo platter consisting of taquito filling, rice, beans and a tortilla; the Frito pie; Rio chili, made with either pork or beans; and chips and salsa. Soup is offered on Sundays, and a soda assortment is available, including bottles by the Ithaca Soda Company. Mexeo also full-heartedly embraces sustainability by only offering patrons compostable and reusable utensils.
Feeling daring and curious, my friend and I ordered the Frito pie and a carne asada taquito. I also asked for an order of the chips and salsa and an Ithaca Root Beer. Patrons place orders at the main wooden counter and pay after.
While it was “Souper Sunday,” the cook informed us the posole, or spicy pork soup, was unavailable on this particular Sunday. Despite this setback, no more than five minutes after ordering, our food was ready and on the main counter for pick-up.
The chips and salsa, plenty for two or three, featured a basket of fresh organic blue corn chips that crisped and crunched perfectly. Salsa, served in a miniature glass bowl, was homemade and not particularly spicy. It was a suitable appetizer or side dish for the lunch-like menu.
The Frito pie was a surprise. Though I am not entirely sure what I had expected, I almost regretted my selection when a basket of Frito-Lay’s corn chips topped with chili, cheese and cilantro was before me. However, The Rio chili that topped the corn chips had the perfect blend of spiciness and tanginess. There was plenty of meat so that the corn chips would not get soggy immediately. The fresh cheese and cilantro garnish were nice toppings to the dish. One can either dig into the “pie” with their hands or choose a compostable spoon to scoop up more than a few chips at a time.
The carne asada taquito consisted of steak meat, onions and cilantro rolled in a pan-cooked flour tortilla. While a corn tortilla would have been nice, the dish was enjoyable. The onions were fresh, but there seemed to be too many, and the steak meat was a little over-cooked. Though two are recommended, the dish only costs $3 for one taquito. The restaurant has variety of different sauces for a little extra flavor and spice. Of the two entrees, I preferred the Frito pie—while messier, there was more taste.
We knew it was our time to leave when a group of the cook’s friends arrived and crammed between the few tables toward the counter. Including a tip, the bill came to $16. While a little steep for what was basically a healthy fast food lunch, it was well worth the experience. Mexeo is a fantastic stop-in or take-out restaurant for a Tex-Mex craving or a unique Ithaca afternoon lunch. I recommend this Collegetown eatery to the diner who is looking for a quick, casual lunch.
Mexeo is located in Collegetown at 213 Dryden Rd.
Ryan Sharpstene is a sophomore journalism major who makes a mean Frito pie. E-mail him at [email protected].