It's hard to miss Fregoso's Comida Mexicana — the outside is painted electric blue with an orange trim. If you step inside, you'll find bold flavors and bright colors that invite you to consider Mexican food with a twist. Aromatic salsas and fresh ingredients accompany your taco of choice, and the molten molcajete — a bubbling concoction of meats, cheese and sauce — is mandatory, as is an agua fresca or a happy hour margarita, of course. But don't be fooled, this ain't your favorite taco spot or your abuela's house.

Formerly Savory Grill and Café, it reopened as Fregoso's this year. With a rotating menu based around seasonality, along with influences from his longtime experience working in both American and Mediterranean restaurants, head chef David Velasco sought to bring a different take on Mexican food in Humboldt County. As a smaller operation, most everything is made to order. Velasco buys many of his ingredients and produce locally, including whole pigs and salmon he uses for special plates. On occasion, he'll treat customers to less common specialties from Mexico, like verdolagas (purslane), which he'll pair with salsa verde ribs.

click to enlarge The bubbling molcajete at Fregoso’s. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • The bubbling molcajete at Fregoso’s.

Do yourself a favor and start with house made aguas frescas ($3.50). The quintessential drink is horchata, a sweet rice milk spiced with soft Mexican cinnamon. If you're feeling like something tangy, try the agua de tamarindo, made from tamarind pulp, or sip the agua de jamaica, a sweet tea made from steeped hibiscus flowers. Drop in between 3 and 6 p.m. for happy hour and have a simple strawberry margarita rimmed with chile-lime tajin.

It's traditional Mexican knowledge that the best way to judge a cook is by comida sencilla or "simple food." In the case of Fregoso's, you won't be disappointed by the supporting cast of rice and beans that accompany most of the house specials or separately with a side of warm tortillas. Non-traditional arborio rice lends a chewy bite paired with the crunch of chile peppers in the tomato mix ($4). Your choice of black or pinto beans ($3) are perfectly soft and creamy, with just the right amount of punch from black pepper.

Along with the wide street windows that bounce warm sunlight off the lemon-colored walls, the warm spices in the air will convince you to try something a little more complex. Go for the chile relleno ($14). The charred poblano chile is stuffed with cheese, battered in whipped egg whites and fried before it's presented to you in all its gooey glory. Served with sour cream, queso fresco and guacamole, the addition of tangy pico de gallo and sliced radish provides a nice balance.

At brunch, have a cup of local coffee ($2) and order a plate of the house special huevos rancheros ($12). It's a no-fuss-or-frills breakfast of two fried tortillas layered with pinto beans, meaty chorizo and eggs as you like. Top them off with salsa, queso fresco, sour cream and sliced avocado, if you feel the need to share it on social media. Of course, you can order it any time of day.

click to enlarge Ask about the dessert specials and the tres leches cake. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Ask about the dessert specials and the tres leches cake.

For those of you feeling famished after a surfing trip to Camel Rock, or just craving damn good fish tacos ($13), you're in luck. Beer batter forms an airy crust to flaky rock fish on corn tortillas and topped with shredded red cabbage, pico de gallo and a show-stopping — yes, it is spicy — chipotle aioli. You just might convince yourself that you're up for the challenge of a second order.

The molcajete will make you the envy of your table ($26). A glance at the menu will tell you that it consists of meats and other goodies, but this you must see to believe. It's showcased in a concerningly-hot molcajete — a traditional Mesoamerican mortar and pestle — that you'd do well to avoid touching, as chef David lets them heat in an oven all day. Salsa roja bubbles and dances underneath artfully placed carne asada, grilled chicken, cactus and shrimp. Keep a sharp eye — the chorizo is hidden beneath the calamity and the finishing touches of wedges of queso fresco, sliced avocado and fresh radishes. Bring a friend, or two.

If you have a sweet tooth, finish up with a simple seasonal dessert, like the creamy, custard-soaked tres leche cake topped off with whipped cream and a bright cherry ($6). Whether you order something familiar or adventurous, it's bound to be a slice of something new.

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Héctor Alejandro Arzate

Héctor Alejandro Arzate

Héctor Alejandro Arzate is a Scorpio originally from Richmond, California. When he's not writing, you can find him cooking or working on his jump shot.
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