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March 26, 2008

Sago Modern Mexican, 4600 Guadalupe (in the Triangle)

Imagine my surprise — ambling through the shining testament to urban infill called The Triangle, I caught sight of a large vinyl sign screaming "MODERN MEXICAN" and assumed, for a brief moment, that this was some Westlake doyenne's unfortunate name for the Latin-flavored clothing shop she just opened. Before I could clear the visions of racks of bejeweled gaucho pants out of my head, I spotted tables and chairs and clean, attractive young women holding shiny folded printed things and realized that I was looking at a restaurant. A "MODERN MEXICAN" restaurant. Thank god. More food to try.

I've railed against arbitrary and useless qualifiers of "Mexican" before, but "modern" certainly sounds appealing—though it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Indoor plumbing and some kind of attention to hygiene rank high on my list of requirements for modernity, but this could just as easily refer to some new interpretation of cuisine, or perhaps a Joycean riff on the menu descriptions: "The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. And from the sea, pescado a la veracruzano!"

No such luck. In the case of Sago Modern Mexican, "modern" apparently entails the brazen juxtaposition of bright paint schemes with a mirror-tiled disco wall and some inoffensive light techno in the background. Or maybe it's the traditional tin ornaments contrasted cleverly against the miniature Ikea cactus pots on the tables. Whatever. We get it — this is not Amaya's Taco Village. Or, as my attorney put it, "this place looks like a stash house in Juarez."

Now, I don't possess the deep-seated resentment for the Triangle development that crept through Hyde Park and grew northward. I enjoy having the Farmer's Market there once a week and the green space in the middle is surprisingly pretty. With the addition of a decent beer bar (review coming as soon as I get past all the damn beer) within reasonable stumbling distance of home and work, there's a lot to be said for density. Parking, of course, is atrocious, but getting off your ass and walking, biking or taking the godforsaken bus wouldn't hurt a few of you now and then.

Nevertheless, my hopes weren't high for a weeks-old "modern" Mexican restaurant given my previously stated predilection for all things larded and a healthy suspicion of dolled-up, high-dollar ethnic cuisine. The first surprise was the menu—it showed unusual attention to the glory of the pig, with pork of some kind gracing the descriptions of a good quarter of the menu items.

The next surprise was that most of what we tasted was damn good. No earth-shattering revelations or eye-rolling, transcendent mouthfuls of flavor, but solid, tasty stuff with a twist here and there—mostly hits and just a few misses. The posole, for instance, atoned for its initial blandness with a healthy chunk or two of roasted pork and a subtle, earthy broth. I'll try it again and hope it gets a touch of heat to it.

If Sago has a signature dish, it should be the pork gorditas. Stuffed with pork shoulder and deep-fried, Sago's gorditas are rich, hearty and oddly un-heavy for a deep-fried hunk of masa. The masa comes flecked with little bits of cilantro and the gorditas arrive exploding at the top, ready to release their porky bounty into your waiting gullet. And, yes, I did feel dirty writing that. You'll understand once you have a couple of these fried delights.

Also of note: Sago's charro beans are superb—deep, meaty, thick with bacon and nearly worthy of a meal on their own. Pork enchiladas were deemed good by my attorney, but we both agreed that the honey cilantro rice with both of our entreés was an experiment in contrast gone slightly awry. "Modern" and "fresh" Mexican tend to push this sweet/hot contrast as if it were culinary gospel. I've yet to see it work particularly well.

Sago's lunch menu is well-priced considering the location and the potential crowd; I haven't been for dinner yet. It's a bargain compared to the always-packed, inconsistent Mandola's across the way, so the next time you see a line out the door at the Italian place, give a modern Mexican a shot.


Sago Modern Mexican on Urbanspoon

Posted by brentbuford at March 26, 2008 11:21 AM


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