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El Mariachi I - Hamilton St.

El Mariachi I is located directly adjacent to the Empire State Plaza at the end of Hamilton St. in Albany. It bills itself as authentic Mexican and usually never fails to succeed. The space is somewhat cramped and can be noisy when busy, but the atmosphere and food make the scene.

On a recent Tuesday night visit we were able to find parking right in front of the restaurant and walk right in. Beware, on busy nights parking can be a premium and several trips around the block may be necessary to avoid a long walk just to get in and find a long wait. This is especially true since the parking lot directly across the street from the restaurant has put up gates to keep after hours parkers at bay. Sadly, this has made the parking conditions sometimes inconvenient.

Now on to the food. As is typical of most (if not all) local, Mexican eateries you are welcomed at your table by a basket of tortilla chips and a side of house made salsa. The salsa was very tasty and had a nice zip to it. Lots of garlic, onion and cilantro made for a nice flavor. My sole complaint with it was that it was a bit watery for my taste. I find watery salsas hard to keep on the chip, but easy to keep on my shirt... My wife ordered carnitas which are chunks of marinated, slow cooked pork served with mexican rice. black beans, a small salad and soft tortillas. For my money, this is the best dish on their menu and has never disappointed in any way. It is a large dish and she was able to make two meals out of it. The pork is very tender and nicely spiced. It can sometimes be a little dry but not on this occasion. It is not the least bit spicy hot, but just a really full, flavorful taste.

I decided to branch out and try their shrimp chimichanga. It was not something that I would order again. It was just a little bland for me, but it was by no means bad. It was filled with a good amount of large, tender shrimp, so that was a plus. You have the choice of having it topped with red, green or white sauce. I opted for half red and half white and it was nicely presented on the plate. The chimichanga also comes with beans, rice and a small scoop of guacamole. I was quite full after eating and wasn't able to finish everything on my plate, so bring an appetite.

On a side note, their guac is really, really good. As noted, it is served on some dishes and can also be ordered as an appetizer. It comes highly recommended. To sum up, El Mariachi remains one of the better and most consistent Mexican restaurants in the area and offers good value for the money.