Food, May/Jun 2017, Worth Checking Out

Mexican in the Mountains

Tito’s Mexican Restaurant and Grille brings an authentic culinary experience to UpCountry.

Hand-painted chairs depicting traditional Mexican scenes decorate a corner booth at Tito’s Mexican Grille in Pittsfield, Mass. Photo: Stephanie Zollshan.

By Kimberly Kirchner

“Why here?”

It’s a question Tito’s Mexican Grille owner Luis Verde seems accustomed to answering. After all, there’s no obvious line between Ohio, where Verde and Tito’s co-owner Jose Luis Perez Camarana operate two of their three other successful Mexican restaurants (the third is in Tennessee), and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the site of their newest location. “Word is in Ohio there weren’t many Mexican restaurants out this way,” Verde explains. Seeking to expand into the northeastern market, Verde and Camarana set out on a 10-day, multi-state tour of the region, scouting locations as far north as Maine.

“We almost signed a lease,” Verde says, “but I wanted to take more time.” The pair were on their way back to Ohio to mull over their options when a fortuitous tip alerted them to a prime location in downtown Pittsfield. They decided to take a detour to view the space, and immediately fell in love.

In January 2017, after six months of intense redesign, reconfiguration and redecoration, Tito’s Mexican Grille opened its doors to an eager public. As word spreads, Verde says the enthusiasm from diners has only increased. “The acceptance was much greater than we were expecting,” he says, citing word-of-mouth buzz, unique meal options and stellar service as the forces that keep customers coming back for more. “Once they come, in a nice way they’re hooked.”

 

The interior is inspired by a rustic hacienda style. Photo: Stephanie Zollshan.

The Depot Street location has hosted a variety of restaurants over the years, most recently a pizza joint, but stepping through the door into the warmly lit, hacienda-style dining area, it’s easy to believe Tito’s has been there from the very beginning. The gleaming wooden booths and rustic iron work, custom-made by hand and imported from Mexico, feel welcomingly well-worn. Every detail, from the stained glass accents in the walls to the hand-painted accent chairs, reflects the Tito’s commitment to authenticity.

The true test of authenticity for any Mexican restaurant, of course, is the food, and Tito’s stands out with a hefty 10-page menu. The dishes span every region of Mexico and every taste preference, all prepared with highest quality, freshest ingredients available. Much of the produce Tito’s uses is grown locally, and their beef is sourced from a supplier that maintains exceptionally high standards for the compassionate and humane treatment of its cattle, which, according to Verde, enhances the flavor of the meat. “We’re proud to pay more” for the best ingredients, Verde says. “We want everything fresh.”

When asked if diners in his Ohio, Tennessee and Massachusetts locations gravitate toward different dishes, Verde gives an emphatic “yes.” In New England, patrons are especially drawn to the seafood options. Verde himself is a big fan of seafood, and says that the close proximity to Boston means access to freshness that just isn’t available in Ohio. He is especially proud of the crab enchiladas, explaining that the shear amount of crab in each serving makes it a regional stand-out.

 

Verde takes pride in the quality and freshness of his ingredients. Photo: Stephanie Zollshan.

The guacamole is a menu highlight. Each order is prepared table-side ­— from the best avocados available, of course — in a hand-carved granite Molcajete from Mexico, lending a dramatic flair to the crowd-pleasing classic. For the more adventurous, Verde recommends the aptly name piña loca: a fajita dish consisting of half a pineapple filled with chicken, steak, chorizo and carnitas and garnished with avocado salad.

And if you’re feeling truly confident, there’s the “grande special.” “We can almost guarantee no one can finish in one sitting,” Verde says. “We have to bring it out on two plates.” The gargantuan meal consists of a chalupa, chile relleno, enchilada, beef taco and burrito, with a hearty serving of rice and refried beans on the side.

 

Verde takes special pride in the restaurant’s bar, which he designed himself. “We have the longest bar in Berkshire County,” he says, and behind that bar is the region’s largest selection of tequila. Their offerings range from the expected staple brands to luxurious imported varieties coming in at $75 a shot. Other notable offerings include a full complement of imported Mexican beers and authentically prepared margaritas.

Tito’s co-owner Luis Verde. Photo: Stephanie Zollshan

Inclusivity is at the heart of the Tito’s philosophy. Verde and his staff go to great lengths to ensure that every guest walks in feeling welcome and leaves feeling fully satisfied. They can modify nearly all their dishes to be gluten-free, and will happily make accommodations for dietary restrictions and personal tastes. “If we have it, we’ll make it,” says general manager Jorge Orozco. They also offer combo meal options, so guests can pick and choose from the menu to create a custom meal.

To better serve the many professionals working in downtown Pittsfield, Tito’s boasts a number of “10-Minute Lunch” options, designed to get customers in and out within the span of a lunch hour. “They’re surprised they still have time to sit and relax,” says Orozco. Many lunch options are only $5.99, making them a convenient and economical choice to break up the work day.

It’s especially important to Verde that people see Tito’s as a family-friendly establishment. A full kids menu is available, featuring both Mexican and American favorites. “You never know what kids will eat,” Orozco says, with a knowing smile, so authentic options like tacos are offered alongside picky-eater-pleasers like hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.

Orozco says he and the staff are happy to help customers who are unfamiliar with authentic Mexican cuisine and may be intimidated by the expansive menu. “We suggest based on what you like,” he says. He encourages customers to explore the wide range of tastes available in authentic Mexican cooking. “People think all Mexican food is spicy,” he says. “That’s not true.”

Correcting these misconceptions is a huge part of the Tito’s mission. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about Mexican food,” Orozco says.

Verde nods in agreement. “We are always trying to educate.”

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