Salem’s New Mexican Choices a Let Down

Posted: October 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Comida, Howling Wolf, Mexican, Salem | Tags: , , | 17 Comments »

With so few choices for Mexican food on the North Shore, we were thrilled that two such places were opening in Salem within weeks of each other. In fact, we were so excited that we didn’t wait long before trying them and were disappointed. We had mediocre meals at both, although Comida’s food was overall better than Howling Wolf’s.

Howling Wolf is a large restaurant with an industrial feel. The decor is interesting, but the space felt uncomfortable to us, with the exception of a lively bar at one end serving beer, wine, and sangria.

The chips and guacamole ($4.50) were very good, with a nice kick to the guac. The shrimp quesadillas ($8.25) was also tasty, and we enjoyed the posole ($6.50) even though it wasn’t hot enough temperature-wise. But the burritos were very disappointing, with flavorless rice, watery tomatoes, and dry meat in the shredded beef ($6.25) and not much more appeal in the steak version ($7). The two tacos we tried also let us down; the fish was just okay ($3.25), and the pork with red chile marinade was too spicy for our palates ($2.50).

Chips and guacamole, pork taco and burrito from Howling Wolf

Comida is take-out rather than a restaurant, although it has a few counter stools and a cheery, appealing interior. The pork taco ($3.25) and the pork carnitas and steak burritos were very good (both $6.75). The burritos were large and included quality ingredients, and we’d definitely return for them.

One nice feature is a large list of burrito fillings that includes mole, pico de gallo, mango-corn salsa, guacamole, and queso sauce, among others. However, we had a bit of an ordering mix up–two of our party wanted their burritos without beans and assumed if they didn’t list beans among their desired fillings that the burritos would be bean-free. This was not the case; the steak burrito came with unrequested black beans, and the chicken burrito came with pinto beans ($6.50).

The quesadillas were similarly very heavy on black beans, and they were not the style we are used to: soft tortillas folded around ingredients rather than flat, crisp ones. We were also surprised by the chips and guacamole; the chips were stale and the guacamole portion was tiny. So was the side of mango-corn salsa, although for only .50, we shouldn’t complain. But the same can’t be said for the ensalda de comida ($4.50), which had lettuce, avocado, and queso fresco, tortilla strips that turned out to be crushed chips, avocado lime dressing that somehow managed to be without flavor, and a few steamed vegetables, similarly flavorless ($4.50).

We’re assuming that at least some of these missteps are due to the newness of both places. We plan to return at some point to test our theory, and we welcome comments about readers’ experiences in the meantime.

Chips and guacamole, pork taco and burrito from Comida

Comida
131 Essex St., Salem
(978) 594-8220
www.comidasalem.com

Comida on Urbanspoon

Howling Wolf
76 Lafayette St, Salem
(978) 744-WOLF
www.feedyourwolf.com

Howling Wolf on Urbanspoon

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17 Comments on “Salem’s New Mexican Choices a Let Down”

  1. #1 Chris said at 12:44 pm on October 16th, 2010:

    Having been to both locations (Howling Wolf about 5 times, Comida once), I’m actually quite surprised by your review. Howling Wolf has been nothing but great on each visit and Comida was not nearly as good. I have had the chicken, fish and steak tacos, shrimp quesadilla and chips/salsa at Howling Wolf. All of these were quite as good as any I have had in California or Arizona.

    At Comida, I had the chicken and steak tacos. The chicken tacos weer better than the steak but still not as good as at Howling Wolf. I will definitely return to both places, though Howling Wolf is closer to my home and given the better fod, I’ll be more likely to eat there.

    I also couldn’t disagree more on the decor. Howling Wolf is open and airy. Comida funnels people into a corner for ordering and felt quite claustrophobic to me.

  2. #2 Jom H said at 2:43 pm on October 16th, 2010:

    I completely agree, on both counts. While neither place is horrible, neither is outstanding – they’re both pretty mediocre. I mean, in my opinion, Chipotle (a chain) blows them both out of the water.

    I probably made a mistake ordering that salad at Comida, but it was truly one of the worst take-out items I’ve had in Salem partially because of the blandness and partially because it skimped on every ingredient besides lettuce.

  3. #3 Renny said at 3:02 pm on October 16th, 2010:

    First off, I’d like to thank you for reviewing our restaurant (Comida Mexican Taqueria)! I would like to address a few points:
    1) We apologize for the mix-up with the salad– we are no longer carrying the salad on our menu, though we will always do our best to accommodate people looking for a special order.
    2) At Comida, you can walk down the line and choose whatever you would like to have in your burrito. Most people prefer beans and rice in their burrito, but it is entirely up to you, the customer, as to what you would like, and you are free to customize it as you wish.
    3) We have increased the portions of our salsas and guacamole.
    4) We have been open a short time; literally three weeks now, and we will continue to work out the kinks. We thought your review was fair, but we were disappointed by the title of the article (“Salem’s new Mexican choices a let down”) especially after you started the section on Comida by stating “Comida is take-out rather than a restaurant, although it has a few counter stools and a cheery, appealing interior. The pork taco ($3.25) and the pork carnitas and steak burritos were very good (both $6.75). The burritos were large and included quality ingredients, and we’d definitely return for them.”
    In conclusion, we thank you for your attention to Comida, and certainly hope to see you in our place in the near future!
    Sincerely,
    Renny Waldron
    Owner- Comida Mexican Taqueria

  4. #4 Patrickr said at 7:32 am on October 18th, 2010:

    Spot on review of both places! Neither have it all together and I don’t think they will since both are off the mark with authentic flavors. Tortillas are a big aspect of the burrito and neither are close to fresh. The howling wolf really seemed like an interesting concept with the bar, but not sure it all works. Comida’s staff will hopefully get better, but I’ll leave it at that.

  5. #5 Colleen said at 10:30 am on October 18th, 2010:

    If you want a great burrito travel a little further to downtown lynn to Tacos Lupita, on Munroe street. For a full service meal, they actually just opened a restaurant on the same street. You won’t be disappointed!!

  6. #6 Jenn said at 12:16 pm on October 18th, 2010:

    Very informative review but not sure I entirely agree with the thumbs down on Comida. I have been by 4 times and the staff have been awesome and very friendly.

    I grew up in Arizona and the set up is very similar to many of the taqs/cantinas you find there. They keep the menu simple but still allow for a lot of choices. The quality is fresh and it taste great.

  7. #7 JR said at 12:41 pm on October 18th, 2010:

    I’m not surprised to hear that some of you had a similar experience to ours, but I’m glad that some of you had better experiences, as it bodes well for the future.

    Tacos Lupita is on our list to try, and it sounds like we should stop into Chipotle, even though it’s a chain, just to be well rounded.

    Renny: Thanks for commenting. You’re correct, the headline is a bit misleading since we did very much enjoy your burritos, and some of the other things we experienced are kinks due to newness, as we acknowledged in the post. Headlines can’t always sum up the subtleties in a post, unfortunately. I’m very glad to hear that you have increased the salsa and guac portions, and you are correct that if we had ordered in the store rather than over the phone, we would have gotten just what we wanted in the burritos.

  8. #8 Kenno said at 9:00 am on October 19th, 2010:

    I have been to both a number of times. I like the food at Comida much better than Howling Wolf, although Howling Wolf has been getting better. Beans are now cooked fully and the food is much more tasty than it was. However, they still seem to be in a state of confusion. Lots of turnover with the staff and I’ve never had a meal prepared the same way twice. They still seem to be trying things out.

    The staff and owner at Comida is MUCH MORE FRIENDLY and accomodating, which to me, makes all the difference in the world.

    Bottom line is that I am glad to have them both in Salem and I guess they can only get better.

  9. #9 Rob said at 9:38 am on October 19th, 2010:

    I have been to both. I prefer Comidas food and quickness over howling. The problem with howling is the service. Our family will never eat there again because they messed up our order and gave my celiac wife aka gluten free aka NO Flour… flour tortillas. Even though I animately said corn. Also they have no juice for kids and no trays for large orders. Come on simple things.

    In my book if poison my wife, I can not support your restaurant.

  10. #10 Geoff said at 11:05 am on October 19th, 2010:

    I’ve been to both places twice.

    I haven’t found much use for Howling Wolf. Food completely meh, and a basic chicken burrito with nothing spicy added for some reason was very spicy. I’ve also never gotten my order made completely correctly there, though I think I’ve heard they are now using order slips.

    I thought the quality of the Comida burritos was higher, and enjoyed the two I’ve had there. I also appreciate that they melt the cheese on the burrito like Anna’s. I was looking forward to the salad from the description, but after your review they pulled it. Agree totally about the size of salsa and quac portions. Comida I still have high hopes for, Wolf, not so much.

  11. #11 Josh said at 8:37 am on October 25th, 2010:

    I haven’t been to Comida yet, but I’ve been to Howling Wolf about 7 times so far since they opened (both alone and with my family), and I’ll say this: the first time I was there the burrito I ordered was tasty but had some dried-out rice. This was the first week they were open. I decided to give them another try, and since then I’ve been quite happy with the food. I’ve sampled almost everything on the menu except the soups.

    What they bring to the party is good basics, a nice (to me) low-key atmosphere, and quick service. The burrito isn’t the same as what you get from Chipotle, but it’s a pretty good burrito all the same. I like the salsas, and when I had the fish tacos I thought it was a little heavy on the cabbage but otherwise good (you can always pull some off).

    I think overall Howling Wolf is promising, though it’s still a work in progress in many ways (from ordering to food pickup/delivery, it’s always changing, and the food is still being tweaked). As a concept it has long-term potential as well to develop into a small chain, and that’s where I think the owners would ultimately like to take it.

    What’s really nice is that Salem has become the kind of town in the last few years that has a niche for places like Howling Wolf and Comida to insert themselves into. As someone who moved here in the Dark Old Days of the early ’90s, it’s nice to see a thriving downtown that attracts this sort of business.

  12. #12 Katie said at 11:01 am on November 5th, 2010:

    I haven’t been to Comida but I also had a bad experience at Howling Wolf. The pork was bone dry and bland and the rice was raw. We told the cook staff and asked for a new one, but they sent it out with raw rice again. The cook said it took half an hour to cook a new batch…. so that makes serving raw rice OK? We asked for our money back, which I never do.

    I do hope they get their act together, since it’s obvious they put a lot of heart into that place. But I personally won’t be back.

  13. #13 Matt Gaughan said at 8:51 pm on November 8th, 2010:

    To JR and others, I would like to personally respond to your comments and observations as we at The Howling Wolf will always welcome feedback, good and bad, from our guests, as we strive to provide the perfect guest experience in our new taqueria. From the beginning, three months ago to today we have strived to provide authentically prepared Mexican taqueria-style food with a New Mexico inspired flair. We use only fresh ingredients and every item is prepared in-house, from scratch. Our chef, Miguel Velez, hails from Guadalahara, and has worked in a variety of full service Mexican restaurants. We have received for the most part, an overwhelming majority of high praise for our food, sangria, and ambience. However, it pains both Pat & I (and Miguel for that matter) anytime someone has less than a great experience. We make every effort to respond immediately to rectify any complaint or concern. We have addressed our service issue by implimenting a new ordering system and a new point of sale system which makes our delivery so much smoother (we take great pride in having served over 1500 guests Sat, Oct. 30th and Sun. 31st. yes, we have changed staff, but almost 95% of our present employees were hired before we opened. we have made some changes to the dining room and we plan to make more, but I would like to hear more from you, JR, personally. Please feel free to call me anytime….I am especially interested in what you mean by an “industrial feel”. The Howling Wolf design was inspired by Mexican and Native American motifs and executed by artist and designer, John “Jeb” Dubus, from Amesbury. Although we do have an open floor plan, there is nothing industrial about it. We also have no plans to create a Howling Wolf Taqueria restaurant chain. Ours is a family business and our only ambition is to create the best taqueria on the North Shore.

    Do we have the “best buritto in Beantown?” Answer, “not yet” but we are close…..we have changed our rice, added more flavor to our beans, not compromised on our cuts of meat, perfected and tweaked our sauces and salsas in response to feedback and comments. Again, thank you for your comments and we appreciate your patronage. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at the Wolf.

  14. #14 JR said at 1:20 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    Matt, thanks so much for letting us know about your progress at the restaurant. We are glad to hear that you are working out some of the kinks and making the food more flavorful. We certainly plan to return to see for ourselves. Our comment on the interior was not about the decor, per se, but the overall feel of the concrete floors, metallic tables, lighting, and high ceilings. We are not experts in interior design by any means and simply used the word industrial to describe the overall effect, which we did not find particularly welcoming. This is, of course, purely subjective. Several of our readers commented that they liked the look of the space and the open design. We were there at night, and I suspect the space feels quite different during the day. Again, my expertise in this area is non-existent, but perhaps some “softening up” of lighting or table coverings is in order after dark.

  15. #15 Edgar said at 10:57 am on December 11th, 2011:

    I agree with this review. Perhaps improvements the next time around for Howling.

  16. #16 Glenn said at 9:38 am on July 8th, 2012:

    I think it’s time for another review of Howling Wolf. In my experiences of late, the food has been consistently much better, atmosphere has softened a bit and become more comfortable, and they appear to have hit their stride. I still won’t say “best burrito in Beantown” (And frankly, I don’t need it to be the best, just really good.), but certainly a good take.

  17. #17 JR said at 1:44 pm on July 9th, 2012:

    Glenn, thanks for commenting. I was interested to see that Howling Wolf was packed when I drove by it recently at dinner time. I think you are corrent–a revisit is in order. We’ll put it on our list!


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