2011-06-01 / Restaurant of the Week


Spice up your life with a meal at Garcia's Mexican Café, located on fashionable Austin Street in Forest Hills. Join the very happy Happy Hour running Mondays through Fridays from 3pm until 7pm, serving discounted margaritas, beer and sangria. In fact, the Daily News recently voted Garcia's "Best Margarita in Queens" and I would have to agree. The "Perfect Margarita" combines gold tequila with a secret blend of liquors and lime juice that really packs a punch. The Santa Fe blue margarita gets its sky blue color from a splash of Curacao liqueur and is cool and refreshing. Fruity mango and peach margaritas, mojitos and daiquiris offer lots of choices along with imported and domestic beer. On warm days, the outdoor terrace provides excellent al fresco dining, with a view to Austin Street below.

Owner Manny Gutierrez greets all his customers, many of whom he knows by name, and runs a tight ship. The service is friendly and efficient and our server Stephanie helped us decide among the many tempting options on the menu. We started with a classic cheese quesadilla, crispy on the outside and oozing with melted jack cheese, served with sour cream, guacamole. A special dish called "hullacoche" is a type of mushroom on fried tortillas with guacamole, ranchero sauce and cool sour cream. The soup of the night was savory lentil with chorizo sausage. We shared a plate of crispy chorizo, sliced and sautéed with white wine that was savory and delicious ($7.95). One of the most popular dishes is blue corn crusted calamari, fried until crunchy, served with salsa and lime ($8.95). Nachos are a hit with groups, as they are smothered with refried beans, jack cheese and jalapeños ($8.95).

GARCIA'S MEXICAN CAFE GARCIA'S MEXICAN CAFE There's something for everyone on the menu of entrees available, including meat, fish, seafood and chicken dishes, all prepared to order using mild spices. If you like your dish spicier, just let your server know and the chef will turn up the heat. My dining companion loved fajitas, which we're told is the most popular dish here. Choose among sizzling chicken, steak, shrimp, vegetables, or a combination, delivered to your table on a cast iron skillet accompanied by warm tortillas, pico de gallo and guacamole ($18.95-$20.95). For pollo ranchero, the chef takes a grilled chicken breast and tops it with piquant tomato sauce and melted jack cheese, then serves it with Mexican rice and refried beans. Pollo relleno is chicken breast stuffed with jack cheese, topped with a creamy mushroom sauce, Mexican rice and salad ($21.95). For traditional style tacos, try the tacos al carbon, from the grill. Tender, marinated steak, pork called "carnitas" or chicken is grilled on the fire then sliced up and placed into warm flour tortillas with pico de gallo, Mexican rice, grilled scallions and cool sour cream. Camarones al tequila are pan-seared shrimp and cilantro, finished with tequila sauce.

I devoured the evening's special fish of the day, which was fresh, flaky catfish, sautéed with butter and lime juice that made for a light and delicious meal, accompanied by fluffy white rice and black beans. Rib-eye steak with onions and cheese was also featured that night, or you will always find a 12-ounce shell steak, marinated skirt steak and juicy pork chops. Alambras a la Mexicana is skewered chunks of shell steak, chorizo sausage, onions, tomatoes and peppers that makes a great meal, sizzling from the charcoal grill.

Mexican cuisine almost requires dessert to sweeten the palate. Orange flan is the lightest, most refreshing custard I've had, and is perfect for finishing off this delicious meal. Fried ice cream is as decadent as it sounds, rolled in corn flake crumbs and deep fried, then drizzled with honey and topped with whipped cream, but why not try it? More traditional cakes like California carrot and chocolate mousse cake are great to share, and don't forget a steaming cup of coffee straight up or be adventurous and order the Yucatan coffee with brandy and Kahlua.

Garcia's is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 12pm to 10pm on weekdays and until 11pm on weekends. At lunchtime there are nicely-priced specials, sandwiches, salads and platters. Come try "The Best Margarita in Queens", fabulous food, freshly prepared and a friendly, festive atmosphere. Buen provecho!

70-09 Austin Street, 2nd floor
Forest Hills  (718) 575-0007

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