Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: Alto Cinco

Name: Alto Cinco
Address: 526 Westcott St, Syracuse, NY
Phone: (315) 472-3633
Neighborhood: Westcott
Menu: View Menu
Cuisine: Mexican
Early AM Coffee Hours: Monday to Friday 8 AM - 11 AM
Restaurant Hours: Monday to Saturday 11 AM - 11 PM, Sunday 11 AM - 10 PM
Late Night Hours: Monday to Sunday 11 PM - 2 AM
Parking: On-Street
Accepts Credit Cards: Yes
Accepts Reservations: No
Alcohol: Beer & Wine
Take-Out: Yes
Delivery: Yes

Opened since 1995 (and currently celebrating its 15th year serving westcott), Alto Cinco has been the go-to destination for Mexican and Vegetarian cuisine for SU students, local Westcott residents, hippies, and the like. It's not technically Mexcian cuisine or something you'd fine at a random roadside taqueria (let's cut to the chase: it's more like Mexican influenced cuisine made by California hippies with a moderate earthy and organic vegetarian focus). But don't let that deter you from enjoying yourself at Alto. The food, including all mole, chips, salsas, and soups, are made fresh daily here.

Upon entering, there's a take-out counter with an chalkboard overhead displaying the menu with an open kitchen and view of chefs and food preps preparing all the meals. If you're doing take-out, you can place your order there, grab a seat inside, and read the local papers and neighborhood happenings (including signing an anti-Subway petition). If take-out is not your bag, you can opt for the more formal dining aspect. Just let the bartender know you'd like to dine in or at one of the tables outside.

The dining room is really nice and very original - with funky decor, copper-topped bar and tables, tasteful overhead and candle lighting, mixed with a relaxed and rustic kind of ambiance. Despite how small cramped the dining room is (and how busy it can get at times), it's very inviting and cozy. Depending on what time you end up going, it can even border on the romantic and intimate side on certain weekday nights if you're lucky.

Alto boasts several different menus including...

- An early AM coffee menu served from 8 AM to 11 AM Monday through Friday with coffee (obviously), espresso, cappuccino, spicy mocha, latte, Mexican hot chocolate, and a small list of breakfast items like breads, fresh fruit, breakfast burritos, and gluten free bagels.

- A lunch and dining menu with soups (like the vegetarian black bean or seasonal gazpacho), salads (like the berry salad with mixed greens, goat cheese, sliced avocado, and berries with a balsamic vinaigrette), sides (like pico de gallo salsa, guacamole, and mango salsa), appetizers (like the fried calamari served with chipotle mayo and fresh lime), and many creative entrees (such as the vegan tostada, catfish burrito, soft tacos, quesadillas, and Mexican pizza, to name a few).

- A take-out menu (essentially a refined dining menu with quicker prepared options).

- A late-night menu (which is a smaller version of the take-out menu, but still with a large variety of offerings).

- And a Sunday brunch menu served from 11 AM to 3 PM.

I really their dining menu a lot. Just keep in mind that it's predominantly non-meat focused (which helped Syracuse get on the list for the 5th-best small city for being vegetarian and vegan-friendly). Be advised that you will not find beef or pork anywhere here (however, chorizo can make an appearance every once in a while).

An excellent wine selection is on-hand with an affordable and extensive list offering about 40 varieties from around the globe , each served by the glass, carafe, and bottle. The beer selection is good as well: several varieties on tap with a nice bottle selection of local microbrews, Mexican, and other imports. Alto also features a decent selection of Mexican sodas and other non-alcoholic beverages too.

As you can tell, I went with take-out on this occasion.

The order...

Chips & Salsa: $3.35
California Burrito (with Cornbread and House Salad): $9.50
Total Money Spent with Tax & Tip: $14.87

The salsa (pico de gallo style) had quite the kick - filled with diced tomatoes, red onions, cilantro, and jalapenos. It was tasty, but a bit watery for my liking with what consisted mostly of tomato juice and lime juice (I think?) with a slight smokiness flavor mixed in. I'd go out on a limb and attest that this salsa wasn't made that day (the tomatoes were a bit withered and the red onions lost some of their purple color). While not a big deal for salsa, it wasn't what I was expecting. The chips, while a tad on the salty side, were served warm, fresh, and crunchy. I had a ton of them left over afterwards, so it would've been nice to have a bigger portion of salsa.

Overall, not bad. I'd think I'd opt for a different appetizer next time as it's a little pricey for what you're actually getting (I always feel weird having to pay for chips and salsa).

So... the jalapeno cornbread is absolutely unbelievable. Perhaps the best in the city (I have yet to try Empire's blue cornbread). A perfect consistency (moist and not dry at all), flakey but not falling apart flakey, served warm, and with a pleasant hotness from the jalapenos. It's just amazing and I can't say enough good things about it. I could eat a whole dish of it.

Also pictured above is the house salad with mixed greens, cucumbers, radishes, and tangy vinaigrette.

The salad left a little to be desired. Freshly chopped ingredients, but a bit too many dirty leaves (it was quite noticeable). I would've preferred a bit more dressing as well, but I suppose that's the risk you can take sometimes with take-out in general.

The California burrito consisted of a wrapped 12-inch flour tortilla, yellow rice, black beans, cheese, salsa, sour cream, roasted red peppers, and guacamole.

Before you yell and scream about the addition of yellow rice in a burrito, don't be hatin'. It actually fits in nicely here and was not mushy at all. The addition of roasted red peppers and sour cream gave it a nice tangy flavor and the guacamole was very tasty: creamy and really brightened up the burrito. Overall, a great burrito and a very good portion size too.

I've gotten this entree while dining in and I always thought it was unique how they put a small wedge of avocado sticking out of the middle of the burrito.

A few other things of note...

- It can get cramped with long wait times when school is in session (especially Friday and Saturday evenings). If crowds bother you, the best time to go is when SU is on break or weekday evenings.

- Shame on me for not knowing they're open until 2 AM.

- Alto Cinco also offers catering. Check their website for details.

Really, my one minor complaint is while the food definitely tastes fresh, I think they tend to reiterate the same ingredients over and over again in many of the dishes here. To a further extent and to do a bit of comparing, when you're at The Mission with a spread of food on the table (salsas, appetizers, entrees) they all mix extremely well together and actually heightens the overall meal. I don't know if I technically get that vibe with Alto Cinco. Not that that's a must-have attribute for any restaurant, but I think it's at least something worth noting.

Overall, Alto Cinco's a great dining experience with an original and funky vibe and creative and fresh food. I think with a couple more visits and checking out the Sunday brunch, I can see myself giving this an even higher rating. I've heard good things about their fried calamari from several people, so I'll have to try me some of that next time I'm here. Which shall be very soon. A strong 4 stars.

My rating of Alto Cinco:

Your rating of Alto Cinco:


Jim Johnson said...

I'm a huge fan of Empire's grilled blue cornbread, but even I think that Alto Cinco's jalapeno cornbread is king. I'm definitely a fan.

Check out their jerk chicken soft taco. Nice little dish.

Owen O'Neill said...

Had lunch there today. Catfish enchiladas with mole sauce. Truly outstanding. I think your remarks and perceptions are on the money. It has a few idiosyncrasies but is generally very good and has a great vibe.

Josef Lorenz said...

will DEFINITELY check out the jerk chicken and catfish enchiladas in my next couple visits. i have yet to be ever disappointed by alto.