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Alcatraz

A flower, a prison, a restaurant.

A large copper pot filled with Alcatraz flowers hangs from the ceiling by nothing other than a pair of handcuffs. This is the centerpiece in Alcatraz, a Mexican restaurant that opened up on Franklin Avenue near Sweet Revenge and Bistro Lafayette this past December.

The decor plays on the name of the restaurant; Diego Rivera's El Vendedor de Alcatraces hangs on the wall, Alcatraz flowers are planted throughout the restaurant, and the prison bar windows and handcuffs pay subtle homage to the infamous prison.

Glancing at the menu, nothing sounds exceptional - simply the usual tacos, quesadillas, tamales, and so on. But do not be fooled. The ingredients used in each dish are unexpected and unbelievably delicious.

For starters, the chips: Freshly made every half hour, the restaurant offers wheat, corn, and blue corn chips. The wheat chips have a crisp outside with a soft warm center that actually melts in your mouth, something I never thought chips could do. Dipped in any of their three salsas or guacamole (a chunky, fresh dip with cilantro, tomato, and onion), a single bite can send you reeling. And that's just the appetizer.

This is not "authentic Mexican food," Christopher, one of the two owners of Alcatraz makes sure to clarify. Chef Sharp, the other owner, has specialized in Asian fusion and Barbecue, amongst other cuisines. And while a beef brisket taco is not authentic, that doesn't mean it's not incredibly tasty. The brisket is cooked overnight for a perfectly tender and smoky flavor that works surprisingly well when wrapped in a soft corn tortilla.

The chicken taco comes with avocado, pico de gallo, and chunks of orange, which add a mild sweetness to each bite. And then there is the fish taco, one of the most famous items on the menu, which is filled with battered and fried mahi mahi and chipotle aioli. The aioli, a creamy sauce made from smoked jalapenos, goes perfectly with the crispy fish and fresh pico de gallo.

The quesadilla is filled with caramelized onions, roasted poblanos and Oaxacan cheese, adding a sweet aftertaste to the oozing cheese. Presentation is never overlooked here - the quesadillas, for one, come arranged in a pyramid shape, almost too pretty to eat.

If there is one thing that you absolutely must try on your visit to Alcatraz, it is Mexican hot chocolate, made with real chocolate (far superior to a Hershey’s bar), cloves, chili pepper, and cinnamon. The result is a thick, hot, drink that slides down your throat, never too sweet, and with a sharp tang that almost tastes like a liqueur. They offer several other freshly made drinks, including horchata, watermelon ginger lemonade, and batido de coco.

It’s BYOB, so bring some rum, and add it to your batido de coco (made from coconut and lime).

The other added bonus about Alcatraz is the cozy, friendly atmosphere-- no small feat, when you consider that you're surrounded by prison paraphernalia.

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