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Friday, May 21, 2010

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Cheap, cheerful and hip: Baja serves simple Tex-Mex snacks with its drinks for the all-night crowd in Naka-Meguro.

TOKYO FOOD FILE

Cozy spots for more south-of-the-border fare


There's little likelihood of Mexican cuisine hitting the mainstream in Tokyo anytime soon, but there's a fair sprinkling of places around town that can scratch the itch when those cravings for tacos and burritos get too insistent.

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Colorful cantina: Salsita's welcoming dining room (above) and 1,000 yen burrito lunch plate (below)
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Long before Frijoles was a glimmer in the eye of the gringos in Azabu-Juban, we've been heading down to Naka-Meguro to get our taco fix at Baja. With its old-fashioned wooden doors and glowing neon signs, this tiny hole-in-the-wall cantina exudes a down-home cheer to ease the homesick soul of expats far from Tex-Mex home.

There are several reasons why Baja enjoys cult-classic status among the youthful boarding, biking, clubbing crew who hang out there or drop by for take-out snacks. It's cozy, friendly and the drinks are cheap — just about everything is priced at ¥500, except for shots of straight hooch (rum, tequila, vodka or gin), which are a mere ¥300. It also stays open right through the night, till the first trains start running in the morning. And the food is more than adequate.

The chili beans (¥480, with two tortillas on the side) are filling, and the burritos (from ¥600 each) will slake any lingering midnight hunger pangs. But it's the tacos (¥330 apiece) we like best. The corn tortillas are prepared from scratch in-house, rolled out and grilled nice and crispy in front of your eyes, and stuffed with home-cooked chicken or pork.

Baja feels like a holdover from the time when Naka-Meguro was a quiet, low-rise, low-rent locale with an artsy, alternative scene — before the developers moved in. Long may it run.

Baja, 1-16-12 Kami-Meguro, Meguro-ku; (03) 3715-2929; open: 5 p.m.-5 a.m. (Sat., Sun. and holidays noon-5 a.m. Nearest station: Naka-Meguro (Hibiya and Toyoko lines)

Another trusty standby when we're in the mood for good south-of-the-border fare is Salsita. We've followed the fortunes of this fine little Mexican restaurant from its first incarnation as a tiny one-counter joint next to the tracks in Ebisu to its present location in the genteel setting of Hiroo.

Chef Koji Moriyama produces some of the best enchiladas and quesadillas in Tokyo. His brightly colored dining room is spacious enough to settle in for extended evening sessions exploring his considerable selection of tequila and mescal (more than 40 varieties in stock). And his ¥1,000 lunch specials are always good value.

Salsita, 4-5-65 Minami-Azabu, Minato-ku; (03) 3280-1145; www.salsita-tokyo.com; open 11:45 a.m.-2:15 p.m. (last order 1:45 p.m.) and 5:30-11:30 p.m. (last order 10 p.m.); closed Mon. Nearest station: Hiroo (Hibiya Line)


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