Food Reviews: Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant

ZAPATA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Huntington Station (631) 923-2513

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The Mexicans are not about to give up on the restaurant at 107 East Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station. Not that long ago, Pancho Villas, a longtime mainstay in Huntington Village, took up quarters here. Then an Italian restaurant made a brief appearance. Now the Mexican fare has returned in the form of Zapata’s, a casual, traditional spot serving huge portions at down-to-earth prices. Its comprehensive multi-page menu offers no innovation or surprises, but just about every predictable golden oldie, standard, expected, familiar Mexican dish known to man. If you want tamales, tacos, nachos, black bean soup, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, chimichangas, chili con carne, quesadillas, tostados, guacamole, flautas or a plate with various combinations of these, this is the place for you. And yes, those dishes can be washed down with sangria, margaritas or Mexican beer.

The look and sound of Zapata’s, with its sombreros, peppy Mariachi music, archways and tile mesh well with the food. Meals get off to a whiz-bang start with fresh, crisp, warm chips and plenty of them, and a snappy, not incendiary salsa dip. Both are replaced promptly when needed. Muscular soups ($4.95) keep the streak going. The chicken soup is no namby-pamby thin broth concoction with a few noodles—it’s a hearty bowl of jumbo chicken and potato cubes, carrots, celery and pasta. The traditional black bean soup is even better. Dark in color, packed with black beans and plenty of minced onions, this is one of the best versions on the Island. One caveat, a choice of soup or standard salad comes with certain entrées, so forgo an appetizer if this is the case. As two diners at our table discovered, it’s just too much food.

After the kickoff successes, the picture became a bit blurry. The two additional appetizers were a split. The jalapeño poppers ($7.95), overwhelmed by their deep fried cornmeal, generated little heat and even less flavor. But the so-called Mexican pizza ($7.95), a plate full of a thin flour tortilla garnished with gobs of sour cream, robust red sauce and melted cheese is a recommended choice. A plate of guacamole ($11.95) that wasn’t “freshly made at your table,” as the menu promised, was mighty good and provided a sampler of sorts for four diners.

The usual rice and beans comes with most entrées, including a disappointing chicken mole ($14.95) that tasted more of peanuts than the expected chocolate. Another unfulfilled menu promise was the “crisp” flour tortilla stuffed with beef, lettuce, cheese and sour cream, billed as the Outrageous Chimichanga. Hardly outrageous, it was soggy and limp. Two better options are the vegetable taco salad ($11.95) with onions, zucchini, green peppers and tomatoes in a tortilla shell, all of them fresh and tasty, and a shrimp and scallop sauté Veracruzana ($18.95) in a gentle garlic sauce replete with peppers and onions.

The sheer quantity of the meal nearly wiped us out, but fortunately we forced ourselves to order a rich milky tres leches cake for dessert.

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richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.