This small mom-and-pop restaurant in the shadow of the massive brick buildings in Nashua’s mill yard has recently undergone a metamorphosis from Tacos Colima, with a brief
menu devoted to simple Mexican fare, to El Colima, with a more extensive menu and more
complicated dishes. But the family-restaurant charm is still there.
If a visit on a recent Friday evening is any indication, it’s been a popular change. The wait for a table was more than a half an hour, rather impressive for an establishment that’s off the beaten path.
It’s a tiny place with no more than a dozen tables, and parking is limited, but it’s something special in both cuisine and décor. When you enter you are greeted by a life-size wood-carved gun-toting hombre. The tables and booth are decorated with folk art renditions of burros, campesinos, and country life in louder-than-life greens, blues and reds.
Alma and Enrique Moreno opened Tacos Colima in 2008. Enrique is head chef. Alma makes the white corn tortillas, takes orders, and clears tables.
Enrique and Alma were born near the Pacific Ocean in the state of Colima, Mexico, between Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, in an area noted for its volcanic activity. Their menu is heavy on seafood, and that’s a good thing.
We started with guacamole. Here’s a tip. It’s offered in small and large sizes ($3.50 and $4.75), but regulars order it made to order with mortar and pestle, and served in a stone bowl of volcanic origin that recalls the Morenos’ homeland. It costs $8.25 and is worth every cent for its fresh cilantro, tomatoes, and creamy avocado.
The stuffed jalapeños ($8.75) are available with either chicken or beef, and we chose beef. The six jalapeños arrived as a star on a serving platter covered with ground beef and melted cheese. The fire swallower at our table thought they were mild, but we found them just hot enough.
Two at our table shared el molcajete ($20), another dish served in the volcanic mortar; it features grilled sausage, marinated chicken, steak, shrimp, fresh tomatoes and avocado, onions, peppers, and squash in a luscious sauce.
It was sizzling when it arrived at the table and was still muy caliente when we were discussing desserts. It was served with beans, rice, and either flour or homemade corn (our choice) tortillas, which were excellent.
The camarones Oxaca ($15.75) arrived steaming at the table, a dozen shrimp sautéed with summer squash, onions, and peppers, served on a bed of rice, and topped with melted mozzarella-like queso. We loved it, but could have lived without the cheese, which overwhelmed the spiced shrimp and frankly was a strange combination.
We also tried the fajitas trio ($19.50) — grilled chicken, steak and shrimp sautéed with fresh bell peppers, onions, with flour tortillas and sour cream that seemed enough to feed an army, We were impressed at how the spices complemented the meat, chicken, and shrimp. The champion eater at the table tried mightily to finish, but left a solitary shrimp on the platter.
Our server was charming and entertaining, and the atmosphere, even while waiting for a table, is so warm and festive that a visit to El Colima is not just a meal, but a night out. And in no small way adding to that feeling are the drinks — both alcoholic and non — offered there.
The menu has the usual selections of margaritas and beers, as well as sangria made with wine, tequila and fresh fruit. It’s a generous and potent drink, not to mention pretty to look at, and really worth the $10. The minors in our group also loved the fresh blended pineapple smoothie ($5), which was frothy, creamy, and not at all cloying.
For dessert we shared a serving of flan ($3.50) and a dish of churros ($4). The churros, a half-dozen twists of dough drenched in cinnamon and sugar, disappeared immediately under the forks of the teens at the table. Their elders picked happily at the flan, which was a sweet coda to a wonderful meal.