Location: 103 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne; (484) 580-8415
Cuisine: Traditional Mexican with modern influences.
Cost: Entrées $20-$32.
Attire: Dressy casual.
Atmosphere: Chic, sleek, trendy, modern.
Hours: Lunch and dinner: Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Sunday dinner: 3-10 p.m. Sunday brunch: noon-3 p.m.
Extras: Outdoor dining, lively bar scene, full-service catering.
The owner of three successful Mexican eateries—El Sarape in Blue Bell and Los Sarapes in both Horsham and Chalfont—Luis Marin seems to know what works and what doesn’t. Which brings us to his latest venture, Xilantro, Wayne’s hottest new restaurant and one of the first truly exciting Mexican restaurants the area has seen in a while.
Situated on busy North Wayne Avenue, Xilantro made its presence known from the get-go. Its brick exterior sports a hard-to-miss, glowing green sign and huge picture windows that allow passersby to glimpse at the mostly white interior and lime-green accents. It has a look and feel that’s drastically different from anything else on the Main Line. “I wanted Xilantro to be a place to be, a place to be seen,” says Marin.
And judging by the ample crowds on several recent visits, Xilantro is just that. The space isn’t big, but it’s smartly arranged and aesthetically pleasing. On a recent evening in the bar area, fashionably dressed young women were catching up over Skinny Margaritas (Milagro silver tequila, agave nectar, and fresh muddled lime juice) while businessmen sipped their Negra Modelos. The drink menu is extensive, but don’t expect to pay less than $10 for a specialty cocktail or margarita. More than 100 types of tequila are displayed on backlit shelves.
Since the restaurant opened in late May, there have been numerous complaints about the noise level, which was obvious on several occasions. Bad acoustics, plus a crowded bar and a full restaurant, doesn’t exactly make for a peaceful dining experience. But Marin has been hard at work soundproofing the space to fix the problem.
The main dining room itself is clean and contemporary, with dark tables, white leather chairs and green-lit photos of old Mexico adorning the bright-white walls. There are two larger tables with wraparound booth seating for larger groups. The look is unlike any other local restaurant that I can think of, but Marin had a feeling that this uncomplicated yet modern look—reminiscent of what you’d likely find in Miami—was something Main Liners would respond well to.
Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, executive chef Juan Pablo Quiroz was brought in from Mexico at the suggestion of one of Marin’s friends. The menu is simple and classy, with dishes that embody “Old World Mexican cuisine with a contemporary flair,” says Marin.
The zesty pico de gallo is a solid way to start the meal, though it wasn’t on the menu when last we checked. It’s worth asking for, however, as the tomatoes were a vibrant red and loaded with flavor. Served in a large mortar and pestle, the guacamole is supposed to be prepared tableside, but that wasn’t the case on any of our visits. A little fresh lime juice would’ve gone a long way in making it a standout.
The flavorful chicken tortilla soup was loaded with shredded chicken and sliced corn tortilla strips to soak up the mildly spiced tomato broth. For the queso fundido, melted Chihuahua cheese is beefed up with a choice of crabmeat, shrimp, chorizo or peppers, and served with flour tortillas. The dish is perfect for sharing.
Entrées can get pricey. The least expensive are the chicken enchiladas, fajitas and grilled chicken breast, all $20 apiece. By contrast, the sautéed shrimp will run you upwards of $30. Most dishes are in the $25-$30 range.
The three hefty chicken enchiladas made for a filling portion, and the delicate green sauce had just enough heat. They’re also available with beef, cheese or veggies, plus red or mole sauce. Baked in paper to seal in the flavors and juices the grouper en papillate was light and fresh. Yet, despite the shrimp, jalapeño peppers, lemon and lime juices, and epazote (a powerful Mexican herb) it was cooked with, the flavor profile was somewhat bland.
Better was the glazed salmon, which struck just the right sweet and salty notes, courtesy of the orange-mango-jalapeño glacé. Served with an airy, sweet-scented hibiscus-flower foam and wild rice, this entrée was a real standout.
Also excellent was the juicy grilled chicken stuffed with poblano peppers. With its rich and creamy white sauce, the dish embodied what Quiroz does best: finding ways to enhance the familiar with thoughtful, refined touches.
THE SKINNY: Xilantro offers the sort of traditional Mexican cuisine most of us know well, but with some subtle and unique differences. While it’s not an easy balance to achieve, Quiroz is successful at it more often than not. He’s created a menu filled with beautifully plated dishes that taste great, too. A sleek, contemporary atmosphere plays up the Miami vibe, without being overly pretentious or trendy. But be forewarned: If you move past the starters—and one drink—brace yourself for the bill. Xilantro is a special place, and the prices reflect that.