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Margaritas = mediocre

Although Margaritas is a chain unique only to New England, this refers to the recently opened Margaritas in Dover, NH. I’ve eaten there twice and both times the food was awful.

The place (being open for just under two weeks) was packed both times and I’ve heard that the wait to be seated can be over an hour. The atmosphere is good, lots of color and Mexican kitsch. The service is good (though they really do excel in getting your drinks to the table vs the food). It appears the drinks actually take priority over the food in this place as they have their own drink runners that do not deal with any aspect of the helping the customer other than delivering libations as quickly as possible.

The chips and salsa were good and guacamole tasty, but the rest of the meals (both times) tasted so mediocre that it was a joke. The refried beans were undercooked. The chicken taco had flavorless white, boiled chunks of breast meat. The “sizzling” fajita platter came with the rice and beans sticking to the hot iron skillet, the rice overcooked. I can forgive them for screwing up our orders, but that the food so lacked any semblance to Tex-Mex let alone Mexican, I would never go back a third time.

Can anyone please tell me why this chain is so popular?

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  1. If you've never had good Mexican ( or any other type of food) you have nothing to compare it to... If it's new to the area and a chain, it seems people will flock there.. it's quantity over quality...It's like when a restaurant reviewer will get slammed for criticizing some ones' favorite spot... the reviewer has has much more dining experience and a broader palate to make a judgement whereas the regular customer may go back to the same spots over and over and order the same thing... they think it's good because that's what they know... sorry to go off topic...

    1. They do a whopping happy hour business. People go for the drinks. The food is incidental.

      1 Reply
      1. re: the_MU

        agree wholeheartedly. the happy hour is where they make their money- the food is secondary, try the vegetarian burrito, quite good if i do say so.

      2. I guess this is telling of the majority of people who happen to frequent this chain.

        I can appreciate the desire to enjoy happy hour drinks and the fact that many people who have never tried good food have nothing to compare it to. These are the “obvious” explanations. I guess what I should be asking is WHY a company, which touts the fact that they import most of their decorative furniture and fixtures from Mexico and takes their employees on annual jaunts to Mexico for experience, serves such plain food.

        Here’s an excerpt taken from their company’s website:

        “Margaritas’ concept is based on bringing Mexico to New England. John Pelletier, CEO, and Dave Pelletier, company co-founder, travel to Mexico with Margaritas managers and employees to educate them about authentic Mexican culture, people, food, drink and décor. For many years, John and Dave have made frequent trips to local artist communities in Mexico in search of authentic, hand-carved furniture and décor for Margaritas’ restaurants. With a steady supply of beautiful carvings, pottery, folk art and images from John, Anthony Grenon, Director of Construction, works with a full-time construction crew giving each Margaritas a unique, hand-crafted, Mexican atmosphere.”

        Could it be that New Englanders do not like food with flavor/spice?? I really just do not get the fact that they decorate the place so well, but cannot close the deal with food that tastes good. It’s almost as if they do not give their customers enough credit--that they expect that real Tex/Mex would turn off the average New Englander. Actually, to back this claim I can add that my side of jalapenos lacked ANY heat whatsoever. What's the point?

        7 Replies
        1. re: bewley

          I totally agree with you about the quality of the food there. I go back about once a year to give it another chance, and it's always just mediocre--at best.

          But, why would the owners change a single thing there? They are absolutely packed every time I've gone in.

          1. re: bewley

            The Margaritas in Keene, NH has a large college following. The prices and the specials make it easy to have a cheap meal. If you're subsisting on Easy-Mac, then the stuff at Margaritas will probably satisfy you.

            Not too far from Margaritas in Keene is a La Carreta. It's physically closer to the college, but nearly every time I've visited the place, it was mostly empty. The food there is much better; much more authentic (especially for New England). Even the Margaritas are better there. I really cannot figure out why La Carreta does so poorly when Margaritas is always packed.

            It only goes to show you: just because a place is packed doesn't mean that it's a great place to eat.

            By the way, my wife and daughters all like Margaritas and usually have no trouble finding something they like. I'm usually trying to find something in the appetizer section that won't disappoint TOO much...!

            -----
            La Carreta Mexican Restaurant
            222 West St, Keene, NH 03431

            1. re: lar3ry

              My short answer to why Margarita's in Keene is more popular than La Carreta is that it's on Main Street and more visible, rather than being buried in the Colony Mill's labrynthine parking lot.

              The long answer is that anything that goes into that building where La Carreta is usually is doomed to fail - think about what happened to the Rynborn and other restaurants. No, the Rynborn wasn't great food...but location, location, location. Some might argue that former establishments in the Margarita's building (Henry Davids, anyone?) have suffered a similar fate, but the turnover isn't nearly as high.

              Margarita's is also more familiar. Having been on Main Street for much longer than La Carreta has been around, it's cultivated a following. Quality doesn't matter much when most of the residents in Keene go with what they know.

              1. re: msFortunate

                "Quality doesn't matter much when most of the residents in Keene go with what they know."

                I think this quote goes for most of New Hampshire.

                1. re: bewley

                  bewley, I think this quote goes for most of the United States...

                  1. re: whs

                    Yes, that's true. My perspective has been a bit narrow lately in this regard.

            2. I find it telling that in Camden, Me., an epicenter of Midcoast fine dining, there was a Margaritas 20 years ago and couldn't make it, but the one near the U. of Maine in Orono thrives. Good Mexican food in New England is a challenge!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Passadumkeg

                I used to make meals out of the chips and salsa as a struggling grad student at Orono back in the 80s. I know it's nothing special but there's one around Salem NH that I would go to for lunch, but they don't open until 4PM (to get right to that happy hour crowd).

              2. I sure would like to get my hands on their salsa recipe. I've tried to duplicated it but it's always missing something...any ideas?

                1. Hmmm, a lousy restaurant chain with good salsa? Odd.
                  I think Lar3ry may have come closest to why crappy Mex places stay in business. Basically it's pretty cheap food. You can fill up on chips, salsa , tacos, burrito or an entree and tortillas and call it a meal.

                  I remember when a Mexican place opened near us. Not a bad location, either. It was mobbed for weeks, if not months. I couldn't figure it out. Now, close to two years after they opened, they seem to be floundering. The newness has totally worn of and the word has gotten out.
                  Something new and different can be a draw. "Different" may be what Margarita's has going for it in some areas. While it may be bland and poorly done it is not the same old burger or pizza. A college area helps. They don't care so much what they eat if margaritas and tequila are flowing.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Scargod

                    La Carreta is a chain but had authentic Mexican taste, but did dismal business at the Colony Mill mall in Keene. The chef moved to Main Street, and reopened with basically the same menu as Pedrazza's. They seem to be highlighting the drinks (margaritas, beer), and perhaps they will do better at the new location. Only time will tell if this move will succeed, or if Margaritas' dominance will prevail.

                    I agree that the food at Margaritas is mediocre at best. The word I used in a review on another site is "quirky." They seem to cater to college students, which explains the reasoning behind some of their locations (Dover, Keene, and Salem come immediately to mind). College students are interested in drinks, and that is where they put their effort (discounts with college id, for instance) and it shows.

                    I don't think anybody has ever gone broke investing in the stupidity of Americans.