Eating a lot of Tex-Mex has been an adjustment for this Northeasterner. Vegetables (other than plentiful, lard-laced legumes) are few and far between, but fake cheese is all too easy to come by. Skinny Rita's, then, is a bit of a master stroke for those of us who prefer to keep things a bit lighter. The original location opened in on North Main Street in the Heights in 2014, serving naturally raised, wood-grilled meats and an entire menu section of vegetarian dishes. A second Skinny Rita's opened in Montrose in February at the former location of Eleven XI.
I dined on Sunday at the original spot, sandwiched between old-school Tex-Mex classics like Spanish Flowers and Tepatitlan Mexican Grill. The small dining room is decorated with Dia de los Muertos knick-knacks, including a shelf filled with skulls with snakes slithering from their eye sockets—my kind of decor. As at most Mexican spots, meals begin with chips and salsa. But at Skinny Rita's, said chips are made with the restaurant's signature nopal tortillas. With a ratio of just more than half cactus flour to corn, the tortillas are light green, with a slightly sweet, subtly vegetal flavor. The trio of salsas with which they're served are tangy, tasty delights, though none, even ones that my server identified as "chipotle" and "habanero" had much of an edge of spice.
Strangely for a place that trades in "skinny," when I requested my entrée, that same server tried to convince me to add an order of queso to my meal. I didn't go for the guac or margaritas he recommended, either. I was on a mission. But that goal was scuttled a bit when my enchiladas de pato arrived blanketed in a thick layer of cheese. At a restaurant that also offers paleo enchiladas and serves a dessert simply called "fruit cup with yogurt," I was a bit surprised.
But when I peeled away the covering, I was pleased with what I found. Deeply umami pipian sauce paired well with shreds of soft duck. The nopal tortillas absorbed the sauce, puffing up like soft sponges. Toothsome tomatillo rice was a fresh-tasting alternative to the often murky flavors of Tex-Mex grains, just as refried black beans were a nice antidote to the heavier everyday version. Not surprisingly, given its $14 price tag, the dish was as large as at typical Mexican spots, so I stopped myself at a half portion, taking home the rest for another day. Apparently, it still takes a bit of restraint to stay truly slim at Skinny Rita's, but when the food tastes good enough to forget the gimmick, perhaps it doesn't even matter.