As we are now lodged in the damp autumn thick of the Major League Baseball postseason, this seems like a more or less appropriate time to visit Castle Shannon's Cocina Mendoza, which calls to mind former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Mario Mendoza, who (in)famously had trouble keeping his batting average above .200.
If Cocina Mendoza were indeed a baseball player, it would be hitting well above .200. Now, I'm not saying .340. We're not talking triple crown winner here. More like, oh, .279 with 18 home runs and 29 doubles.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
Cocina Mendoza is the sister restaurant to Mendoza Express, a tiny roadside shack along Mansfield Avenue in East Carnegie, which has been around for more than a decade. Another location (Mendoza Express 88) has since closed. Three years ago, owner Abraham Mendoza opened a new, larger restaurant in a shopping center along Mt. Lebanon Boulevard.
The new spot seats about 80 in the dining room and 10 more at the full bar, and as you might expect, the walls are red and green and gold and appointed with various sombreros.
Two shrimp tacos ($9.25) on flour tortillas were tangy and, with a dash of Tapatio, just spicy enough. A "carnitas" burrito ($11.50) was stuffed with slow-roasted shredded pork, rice, onions, cheese and a bit of cilantro; a side of refried beans rounded out the meal. Lunchtime service was swift.
You'll find most of what you'd expect on the menu here, supposing you've ever been to a Tex-Mex-style Mexican restaurant before, plus a dozen seafood items, stuffed poblano peppers and breakfast plates (huevos racheros, huevos con chorizo), the specialty of the East Carnegie location.
It wouldn't be my first choice for tacos or burritos, but that's less an indictment of Cocina Mendoza than it is an acknowledgment of a slooowwwwly changing city: from Las Palmas Carniceria to Casa Reyna to Smoke, there are options now. I wouldn't exactly call it an abundance of good Mexican food, but still, as Mad Mex turns 20 (see Bob Batz's anniversary piece at pgplate.com), we have options.
And yet Mendoza's has its place. This is no news flash, but it's been interesting to watch the South Hills' demographic profile shift over the past decade. Mexican groceries, butcher shops and restaurants in places like Brookline, Beechview and Castle Shannon. It's a more interesting and diverse place to live -- and eat -- as a result.
Cocina Mendoza, 300 Mt. Lebanon Blvd., Castle Shannon; 412-531-2001.munch
Bill Toland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2625 or Twitter @btoland_pg. First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM