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Aug 2, 2011 11:24 PM

Howling Wolf, Week Day Mexican Lunch in Salem

Weekday lunches are a v. tough call in Salem. There have been many CH posts supportive of The Old Spot for good pub food/sandwiches but they are closed for lunch except fri-sun. And while the Witches Brew is open for wkday lunches, the menu was not appealing. The Lobster Shack was too grungy So we tried this fairly new Mexican spot, Howling Wolf, for a pre-Peabody Essex Museum afternoon today. The friendly owners are on site and want you to be happy. The vibe is good. Big room with full windows on the street- about a 10 min. walk to the museum. The food is not chintzy or terrible; some dishes are particularly good. With our friends we tried the pork pozole, chicken quesadilla, guac. and tacos: carne asada, deshabrada, pastor, fish, chile verde, chile colorado.

The tacos were STUFFED with filling and only $3; easily twice as much filling as at our beloved La Verdad in Boston. The first three fillings were, respectively: a bit bland, ditto, and good flavor but way too dry. The last 3 were the winners and delicious. Some fillings include refried beans (v. good) and unfortunately all are overflowing with flavorless shredded cheese and too many onions. But once those were removed, the winners were excellent and I would gladly have them again soon. The guac had the look of pre-made pureed and its onion content was easily 40%, so it needs work. The pozole broth was too weak for my taste but i have had many that tasted this way.( The best pozole I’ve had in MA is that at the otherwise unremarkable El Cielito Lindo in neighboring Beverly). The quesadilla was bland though the red and green sauces with it- were v. tasty. It was very crowded today so word must be spreading. It sure is great to have an interesting spicy alternative to trad sandwich fare for lunch.

The Old Spot
121 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970

La Verdad
1 Lansdowne St, Boston, MA 02215

Cielito Lindo
150 Cabot St, Beverly, MA 01915

Witches Brew Cafe
156 Derby St, Salem, MA 01970

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    1. Hello .....chef,

      My husband and I are going to the coast for a few days to explore the area between Salem and Portsmouth. We'll be staying at blue on Plum Island but we expect to eat elsewhere.

      Your recommendations have never disappointed. Are the places listed here still on your rec list? What about Newburyport or Portsmouth? Do you ever venture that far north?


      10 Replies
      1. re: JunieB

        junie, what a nice person you are; you just made my day. MAjor! And yes, as a matter of fact, we go frequently to that Newbport-Portsmouth area (LOVE it because of the ocean and well preserved18th c. architecture and townscapes and the concerts and films at the amazing restored Portsmth Music Hall) and I have been working on a long thread of 6 Boston day trips , with that area, and Salem-Mrblhd included. I'll finish those 2 day trip areas and post them.What's your timing and is it over a wkend or Monday (so i can include Sun and Mon. 'closed' info)?

        1. re: opinionatedchef

          Unfortunately our time will be rather short. We're driving up on Tue. 9/18 and back on the 22nd. We could only get a reservation at blue during the week, which actually suits us just fine. Hopefully less crowded, etc..

          I have the Peabody Museum on our list and that's about all, so you can see we need some help! We have a friend who just moved to Portsmouth to open a cafe in a new bookstore (Portsmouth Book & Bar) so we might like to take her to dinner one night.

          1. re: JunieB

            that's 5 dinners. good! i'll work on that post soon. off the bat, i'd suggest these as the best dinner spots, for my taste, in descending order (that are not clam shacks or trad fried seafood places):

            Portsmouth- Black Trumpet

            Marblehead- 5 Corners Kitchen

            Portsmth- Green Monkey

            Newburyport- Glenn's Galley

            Many CHs will shoot arrows my way, but i wouldn't bother going anywhere else in those areas(Unfortunately the hinterlands really are the culinary hinterlands up here.) More later! What a nice time to come up; the cool weather is so great now!

            p.s. i just re-read your post and i'm a little confused; you're coming into 'Boston' to go to Harvard's Peabody Museum while you're staying in Newbport? or you're going to the Pbody on your drive up? (so do you need lunch rec for harv sq area?) Or are you talking about the PEM- Pbody Essex Musm in Salem?(i hope this)

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Sorry! I have a cold and I'm on drugs - Peabody Essex.

              This is why I look for you when I come out that way - when I Googled restaurants none of these places showed up! It's also why I don't trust the other food sites. Thanks. I'll read up on these recs.

              1. re: JunieB

                love your photo of the Alina beet salad! that's one of the prettiest presentations i've seen; what's in the middle? ( looks like a pear; if so, that's quite the hefty salad!) your above comment made me think of changing my CH moniker to passthepercocet!

                1. re: opinionatedchef

                  The Pioneer Valley is a wasteland when it comes to good food but Alina's is trying to improve the stats:) The Chioggia Beet Salad is only served when the beets are in season and it's an awesome salad. It has a light orange dressing, braised endive and gorgonzola sprinkled over. Very pretty indeed, and so so tasty!

                  passthepercocet has a nice ring to it. Today I've traded the drugs in for tea with honey and lemon so I think I'm on the mend.

            2. re: JunieB

              junie, i'm guessing that when you go to salem, you'd want lunch.

              The Salem restaurant scene has improved greatly in recent years, and is concentrated in the more tourist- visited small downtown and wharf areas. Lunch recommendations: PEM Cafe( simple light fare in the ethereal sun-filled atrium of the museum); the nearby AJ Artisan Bakers ( known for French style artisanal breads and pastries, coffee, and sandwiches); Old Spot ( locals- popular with basic tavern fare) and Finz, a modern seafood restaurant on the water. Red's is also a popular breakfast and lunch spot,very close to PEM ,as is Polonus Deli - a beloved bastion of all things Polish.

              Or you might consider driving 15 min to Marblehead, getting take out from Cafe Vesuvius or Marblehead Munchies and eating at Fort Sewall. Marblehead is a uniquely handsome and well preserved 18th c. town, perched above a sail boat filled harbor lined with mansions and three yacht clubs. On the NW tip of the harbor is Fort Sewall ,a grassy promontory now lined with benches and trees, that provides one of New England’s most beautiful vistas of ocean, islands and harbor. (A place very dear to me!)

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                I can finally reply! Thanks, chef. Initially I was pretty sure we would go to the Peabody/Essex Museum, but after more consideration, maybe we will just do sightseeing stuff instead, especially since our time is so short. We're in NYC more than we're in the Boston area and can get our fill of museums any time we want.

                You've definitely talked me into a trip to Marblehead! I hope the weather isn't too crappy.

                1. re: JunieB

                  I'd throw in making a basket lunch of meats,cheeses and wine from Shubies and a great Latte from atomic Cafe while in Marblehead...Or if your in the mood for a North Shore roast beef sandwich, Village roast beef makes a nice one...a huge junior.

        2. Talk about thread drift...the Howling Wolf sounds dreadful, really....40% onions, flavorless cheese, dry tacos, pureed guacamole...not clear how you count those as 'winners' unless quantity trumps quality. A crowd for "Mexican" does not surprise me, after all, this is Salem and there is nothing comparable. People will eat there at report back "...hey it was really great" no doubt but it sounds like a place worth avoiding completely. Don't need to venture into a crowded place for 'very good re-fried beans'. Not meaning to come off as snarky but it's hard to glean from your review why anyone would want to eat there.

          7 Replies
          1. re: ipsofatso

            ipsosnark? nahhhh, i don't think so! sorry your eyesight missed my description of the good stuff. PLUS... things sometimes change and get better. i.e.:
            the guac last week had been fixed and was v good except i added my usual lime (i only tried it cuz friends had ordered it; VERY happy to see that maybe the owner took my suggestion to heart.)
            we still like the carne asada tacos and get them a couple times a month. good value and flavor.
            the wings have been excellent and not as excellent and we plan to try them more.

            some places you really have to order carefully; at least that's true for us. but that's even true for us at la Verdad (all in all completely superior to HowlWolf) where we have only the pescado and carne asada and chille relleno that we love (along w/ the guac and refr beans and corn sometimes).

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Thanks OC, but I'll pass on this one. I make better @ home which is why I rarely go out for Mexican unless I am traveling in Texas or California. Tu y Yo is nice as are some of the taco and burrito joints in Harvard and Central Sq. for lunch. Salem and Mexican food is like dancing about architecture. It just does not translate. I won't waste my time but I am so REALLY glad YOU liked it. XOX

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                I don't necessarily like it but I totally understand where you're coming from with the idea that some places are limited in the number of good dishes they serve. It's kinda like buying an album for just a couple of good songs or buying a cookbook for a handful of good recipes. It's totally worth it if you find the one or two good things! I had no trouble deciphering your review. It sounds like a place I might consider for a quick bite before taking in the museum. A couple of tacos and a margarita are sometimes just what's called for.

                I don't understand why most people can't do good Mexican food on the east coast. Seems to me that the ingredients are readily available these days, so if you have a good recipe there's really no excuse for making mediocre Mexican food, but it seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Maybe that's beginning to change. We've found a couple of delicious places just over the border in CT.

                1. re: JunieB

                  I am a fan of Sol Azteca but on the W. Coast it would rate as very average

                  1. re: ipsofatso

                    Yes, that's usually the case. I lived in San Francisco for a few years and sometimes I get a terrible craving for good Tex-Mex, even a good burrito! If I had more money than sense I would fly out west once a month just to eat! It's kind of funny, where we lived in Marin County we couldn't find good pizza. Great burritos but no pizza. Maybe there's something to be said for things staying regional. Back in the 80's, having visited Seattle for many years, and having lived in Ann Arbor, I used to wish there was a Starbucks and a Borders in Philadelphia where I was living at the time. See where that got us! Where is Sol Azteca?

              2. re: ipsofatso

                I look at Howlin Wolf as Anna's w/ booze, a cheap lunch/dinner with a beer or Margarita.