At the entrance to Mi Cancun, two surfboards stand by the door as if their owners had just left them there while they popped in for a little refreshment. Inside, an old wooden oar and a fishing net strung across one wall are among the rustic maritime notes in an otherwise contemporary space in the upscale Grace Park Shopping Center in Morrisville. Over the bar, incongruously tucked in among a collection of bas-relief plaques with Aztec and Mayan themes, a rough wooden sign advises that you’re in the vicinity of “The Lake House.”
OK, the surfboards aren’t real. They’re replicas supplied by Pacifico beer company, and they serve as billboards for the handwritten daily food and drink specials. Unwritten is another message, equally enticing: Step inside, the surfboards seem to say, where you can escape the daily routine. A tropical seaside vacation awaits.
The bar certainly lives up to that promise. In addition to the usual margarita suspects (including top shelf variations, as one surfboard advises, for $6.99), refreshments ranging from Coco Loco to a fruity melon refresher in a hollowed-out cantaloupe are frequently on offer.
The kitchen makes an effort to maintain the illusion, too. The results of that effort are tasty, for the most part, but too often come off as, well, touristy.
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Shrimp ceviche, served on a bed of pico de gallo and slices of ripe avocado, is a generous shareable starter. But the shrimp are disconcertingly hot, as if they haven’t been properly shocked in cold water after blanching.
The shrimp are properly cooked and garlicky, on the other hand, in camarones al mojo de ajo. It’s the fact that this quirky rendition includes sautéed mushrooms and garlic that will catch fans of the authentic version off guard.
Then there’s piña del mar, an over-the-top presentation featuring shrimp and tilapia, grilled fajita-style with onions, peppers, tomatoes and pineapple, then piled into a pineapple shell and smothered in molten cheese.
The coastal culinary adventure is full of surprises, to be sure, but in my experience you’ll find greater rewards by turning inland. A classic rendition of Mexican-style chicken soup, loaded with shreds of meat and garnished with chopped cilantro and fresh avocado, is a surefire way to get the meal off to a good start. So is guacamole prepared tableside – here it’s fetchingly called “guacamole live,” and it’s an ample starter for two to four.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more adventurous, a starter labeled simply “corn” turns out to be an off-the-cob riff on a Mexican street food favorite: kernels of sweet yellow corn topped with crumbled queso, crema and a generous sprinkling of chili powder.
The entree offering covers all the bases, from burritos to enchiladas to fajitas. You can satisfy your Tex-Mex cravings with a combo plate, even create your own combination if you like. Or scratch a taqueria itch with your choice of nine meat fillings (plus a vegetarian option) on flour or homemade corn tortillas. Tacos are served served three to an order (two at lunchtime) with rice and excellent soupy black beans on the side.
A separate section devoted to vegetarian dishes offers half a dozen options ranging from green burrito to veggie-stuffed grilled poblano pepper. Another section, labeled “A la Parilla,” offers a broad assortment of grilled fare, both familiar (grilled chicken with chipotle cream sauce, mixed grill for one or two) and surprising (ever try a grilled chimichanga?).
The kitchen does an above-average job across the board, and occasionally surprises with a standout. Carnitas tacos are loaded with succulent shreds of pork, chopped onion and cilantro. The carne asada is as good as any I’ve had in recent memory. The grilled jalapeño and green onion garnish are, you might say, just authentic icing on the tres leches cake.
Which, come to think of it, is probably the best of the half dozen dessert options at Mi Cancun. That is, if you don’t count those tropical concoctions from the bar. Did I mention that the Coco Loco is served in a coconut shell? With each sip on the straw, you find yourself relaxing further and further into vacation mode. And if the food doesn’t quite transport you to Cancun, it does a pretty solid job of putting you in a border town fiesta mood.
1106 Grace Park Drive, Morrisville
Rating: ☆☆ 1/2
Atmosphere: casual, contemporary Mexican
Noise level: moderate
Service: pleasant and attentive
Recommended: chicken soup, corn appetizer, carne asada, soft corn tacos
Open: Lunch and dinner daily.
Other: full bar; accommodates children; good vegetarian selection; patio; parking in lot.
The N&O’s critic dines anonymously; the newspaper pays for all meals. We rank restaurants in five categories: ☆☆☆☆☆ Extraordinary ☆☆☆☆ Excellent. ☆☆☆ Above average. ☆☆Average. ☆ Fair.
The dollar signs defined: $ Entrees average less than $10. $$ Entrees $11 to $16. $$$ Entrees $17 to $25. $$$$ Entrees more than $25.