MEXICAN RADIO COMES IN LOUD AND CLEAR

WILLIAM M. DOWD Associate editor
Section: LIFE-TODAY,  Page: G2

Date: Sunday, October 26, 2003

``I wish I was in Tiajuana eating barbequed iguana. I'd take requests on the telephone. I'm on a wavelength far from home. ... I'm on a Mexican radio.'' HUDSON -- That tempting morsel from the 1980s Stan Ridgway song isn't on the menu at Mexican Radio, but it isn't difficult to find something there for nearly anyone.


``Mexican'' food in the Great Northeast usually is of the Taco Bell variety, the deserving object of all the wisecracks and barbs to which such stuff is subjected. If you get lucky, you come across such occasional gems as the Bermejo family recipes at the two El Mariachi restaurants in Albany, but that's a rarity.


Well, !hola! Mexican Radio. The new upstate version of the downstate original is a welcome addition to the cuisine of the greater Capital Region.


Co-owners Lori Selden and Mark Young have a reputation for serving superb margaritas at their Manhattan location (in the Nolita neighborhood), but there is much more to the Hudson enterprise than that.


Start with the atmosphere. Right smack in the middle of this little city's antiques row, it's a two-story cafe replete with south of the border wall hangings, colorful shades of terra cotta on the wall, plenty of dark Mission-style wood railings and trim, plus a couple of heavy metal bands.


No, not that kind of heavy metal. This is the lifesize sculpture variety of mariachi musicians. One band is perched on an elevated corner ``stage'' that reaches to the second-floor dining room where a second band peeps in the back windows. Clever, funky and eye-catching.


Constant Companion and I dropped in on a recent weeknight (I'd cleverly timed it so most of the surrounding antiques stores had closed for the day, thus avoiding additional costs), and we were shown to a table on the second floor.


Over a brace of excellent margaritas (the house recipe Transistor with Triple Sec and the ultra-smooth Code Talker with Citronge and Grand Marnier), we studied the menu -- Mexican and Tex-Mex with lots of vegetarian choices.


Selecting from the entree list of 14 standard items (26 if you count the veggie versions) and several specials took a bit of time. Our personable waiter, Justin, wisely suggested we place our appetizer order before we'd decided on entrees.


I started with the chile rellenos, a standard Mexican appetizer consisting of a roasted poblano pepper, lightly dipped in egg batter, then stuffed with cheese, pan sauteed and served on a roasted tomato/jalapeno salsa. The smokiness of the fat poblano makes a wonderful contrast with the smoothness of the cheese and salsa.


Companion's Mexican spring rolls were a delightful departure from the usual Asian version: a mix of fresh corn, mushrooms, scallions, peppers, lettuce and guacamole contained in a spring roll wrapper and served with an imaginative -- and delicious -- raspberry chipotle peanut sauce, all sweet and smoky and pungent.


We wound up with two very different choices for the main course.


Companion's chimichanga was excellent. A large flour tortilla was stuffed with chicken (beef or roasted veggies are alternate possibilities), roasted corn and a snappy chipotle cream sauce, then deep fried and topped with guacamole, crema and pico de gallo -- ``beak of the bird,'' a relish with bite. I've experienced chimichangas that are fried too long; here, the duration was just enough to slightly crisp the tortilla and thoroughly heat the whole concoction.


My platter of carnitas was a nod to the current desire for slow-cooked foods. Tender, shredded pork is marinated in a citrus blend, then grilled with a pepper salsa. Not great, but certainly serviceable, and it went perfectly with a side of rice and black beans and perfumey corn tortillas.


Desserts were a fine topper to the evening. The white chocolate flan was sublime, and the four-layer Mexican chocolate cake was of the cocoa-y variety that kept the moist wedge from being too cloying. Companion especially liked it with a mug of mixed-blend decaf coffee.


Other than a bit of erratic timing on delivery of food and a wait for the carry-out paraphernalia, there wasn't much sign of newness jitters. Our bill for this introduction to Mexican Radio was $92.88 before tip. Stay tuned for success.


Dowd's reviews are archived online at http://timesunion.com/restaurants. His own travel and food site is http://TasteForTravel.com. FACTS:RESTAURANT REVIEW MEXICAN RADIO 537 Warren St., Hudson, NY 12534 Reservations: 828-7770. Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Credit cards: AE, M, V. Parking/access: Nearby municipal lot or on-street. Dinner prices: Average entree $15. Food/beverage (***): Mexican/Tex-Mex. Nice margarita list. Service (***): Personable, helpful. Atmosphere (***): Colorful two-story Mexican cafe. Overall rating: *** Key: One to four stars. Four is exceptional, two an average score.