Tex-Mex meets Locavore at Mexeo in Collegetown

October 4, 2013

It's a tiny storefront a half block down Dryden Road from College Avenue in Collegetown, so if you don't know to look, you might never notice Mexeo, which reopened this August after a short hiatus. This quick-service eatery with its short menu of simple food mostly served in tortillas is one of Ithaca's most local-food-focused restaurants.

A pair of tacos at Mexeo.A pair of tacos at Mexeo.The core of Mexeo's menu is the simple soft tacos featuring fillings in a flour tortilla with nothing extra like refried beans or shredded cheese added. The fillings start with slow-braised beef in the Carne Mulato or pork shoulder with citrus sauce in the Carnitas. For vegetarians, or even just for a change, try the veggie chorizo, a hearty and spicy tofu crumble that won't give you time to miss the meat, or the Rajas, sauteed mushrooms, peppers, and onions.

If you're a carnivore and a little more daring, when they're available on occasion, try the delicious tongue or heart -- lengua or corazon -- meats that don't usually find their way onto "norteamericano" plates, but fit well with a philosophy of using the whole animal, an idea local farms gladly get behind.

Which hot sauce is hotter? Better try both.Which hot sauce is hotter? Better try both.Speaking of local farms, the produce at Mexeo comes from places you've heard of like Stick & Stone Farm and Indian Creek Farm, the tofu is from Ithaca Soy, the chicken is from Murray's Chicken, and the beef comes from Shirk's, a Mennonite farm right here in the Finger Lakes. Owner and chef Sebastian Villa does all the cooking and makes the salsa and hot sauce from scratch.

From Corpus Christi himself, Sebastian says that while what he serves isn't "typical" Mexican food, it's the "simple and straightforward" food you'd find in his South Texas hometown, with nothing fancy. When Mexeo reopened this summer as "MX 4.0," the tacos got an upgrade, though, featuring a fresh peach salsa and smooth avocado-yogurt sauce.

One side effect of the local focus is that availability of a particular ingredient can vary, and fresh food prepared in small batches can mean that sometimes, Sebastian will simply run out of food to serve. On the other hand, using seasonal produce gives Sebastian the opportunity to play with different salsa recipes or invent specials -- like an occasional pork posole -- that take advantage of what's available in abundance. We expect the salsa and sauces to change seasonally.

Take-out food worthy of a sit-down dinner, the Pollo Box features roast chicken thighs. Photo by Marian Flaxman.Take-out food worthy of a sit-down dinner, the Pollo Box features roast chicken thighs. Photo by Marian Flaxman.With all that fancy local handmade fare, we love that nothing at Mexeo is too expensive. The tacos are $4 for one, $7 for two and $10 for three, and two is really plenty for a meal. A burrito, or a bowl with all the fillings but no tortilla, is $8.50 with rice, beans, and lettuce added.

If you're not in the mood for handheld food, the Pollo Box, new to the menu this summer, features roasted citrus-chipotle chicken thighs served with rice, beans, and cabbage slaw. Check the cooler for bottles of Coca-Cola imported from Mexico, sweetened with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and ask what flavors of kombucha are available.

Mexeo used to be Xeo's Cafe, serving traditional Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches with the same basic idea: fresh local meats and produce make the best food. Those are now available during limited hours at Cafeo, the coffee shop next to Nail Candy further up Dryden Road.

Find Mexeo at its new location at 111A Dryden Road, between College Ave and Eddy Street in Ithaca's Collegetown neighborhood. They're open Tuesday through Sunday, 11am-4pm, with breakfast burritos on the weekend. Check the Mexeo Facebook page for specials and last-minute schedule changes, or call 607-272-9367 and tell them you heard about them here. 

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