Dining Out: First rate Mexican cuisine leads the way at Annapolis' Sin Fronteras Café

One of my first assignments when I began reviewing restaurants for The Capital’s Dining Out column eight years ago was the newly opened Sin Fronteras Café.

Located in Parole on old Forest Drive not far from the then-new and glitzy Annapolis Towne Centre, it struck me as a lousy location for a restaurant. It was across from an old strip of shops and next to a package goods store that was long overdue for remodeling.

It was a cold night in December. The few customers there were clearly from the rapidly growing Hispanic and Latino communities nearby. “Oh boy,” I thought to myself as we walked in the door.

“Oh boy” was right. Sin Fronteras was a sunburst of the foods and friendliness of Latin America. My review began: “Something’s cooking in Parole, …” and I noted that if the nearby community frequented Sin Fronteras, the rest of us had better take a look and a bite.

Fast forward eight years later. We arrived for dinner the week after New Year’s on what was reportedly the coldest night in Annapolis in many years. Every table was occupied and bright music bounced in the background.

And ,while first rate Mexican cuisine leads the way, Sin Fronteras lives up to its name. The English translation: without borders. Food rooted in the cultures Peru, Colombia, Honduras, El Salvador, Cuba and Caribbean countries are equally enticing. With Chef Roberto Garzez steering a kitchen obsessed with fresh, quality ingredients and a snappy serving team zipping between tables, this restaurant has firmly planted itself in the hearts and stomachs of Annapolitans.

Beware of the appetizers, all designed for sharing. You’ll find familiar favorites and some intriguing specials (ask if the Peruvian Papa Rellana or the Colombian Beef Empanada are available).

A couple of their appetizers with one of Sin’s excellent Margaritas or a one or two glasses from a wine list made up mainly of South American and Spanish choices could be an easy detour from the two dozen or so entrees.

Calamari and shrimp were the stars of our starters that night. Calamari, breaded and fried, is on so many menus that I usually ignore it. While Chef Gazeza’s version is just fine, try it grilled ($9.99) with a fine crusty char and served with a signature tomatillo sauce.

Camarone Ajillo (garlic shrimp, $10.99) is a gentle sauté given full flavor with garlic, tequila and fresh limejuice. And the shrimp emerge moist and tender, rather than rubbery. I’ve also found their Shrimp Ceviche ($9.99) a tangy, refreshing meal opener.

Entrée options can please lovers of traditional Mexican fare – burritos, enchiladas, and all the rest – they will eat happily. But that would be short-changing the kitchen’s talents. Dishes featuring beef, pork, seafood, chicken and lamb

My wife opted for her favorite chicken fajitas ($17.99). Every south of the border restaurant serves them, but somehow the Sin Fronteras version seems a cut above. The generous platter arrived with sizzling, carefully seasoned meat, very fresh vegetables, flour tortillas and a side of the house rice, casamiento, all perfectly portioned.

My dinner of Chile En Nogada was built around a big, toasty Poblano pepper stuffed with seasoned ground beef brisket, sparked with raisins and plantains. A creamy walnut based white sauced was ladled on top and the whole creation sprinkled with fresh pomegranate seeds ($15.99). Oh boy.

After a meal of Sin Fronteras’ appetizers and entrees, you’ll probably wave your hand at the mention of dessert. But wait! The house-made meal closers here are of the “lighter is better” school. I’ve had the flan – delicate, cool custard that seems to float on the plate. During our meal, I saw plate after plate of the Banana Tempura roll out of the kitchen. The crispy nuggets, portioned precisely for easy sharing with ice cream and ribbons of chocolate sauce, held a smooth filling of banana and cheese — a kind of cheesecake — that was a lot less decadent than it looked. Oh boy.

The food side of Sin Fronteras’ formula for success centers on fresh ingredients for full flavors (nothing can be remotely described as bland).

Owners Walter Vasquez and Wilmer Romero personify the friendliness side of the equation. They seem to know everyone who walks in the door and greet him or her accordingly. The serving crew is prompt and efficient and yet you never feel rushed.

The restaurant has added catering to its services and customers within a four-mile radius can treat themselves to home delivery.

Something’ still cooking in Parole …

Sin Fronteras Café

WHERE: 2129 Forest Drive, Annapolis

PHONE: 410-266-0013

WEBSITE: www.sinfronteracafe.com

CHEF: Roberto Garzez

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday, Lunch and Dinner

SALADS & APPETIZERS: $3.25 to $16.99

ENTREES: $9.99 to $18.99

RESERVATIONS: Accepted by Phone

CREDIT CARDS: All Major Credit Cards Accepted; Carryout Orders Welcome; Delivery available within four miles; 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

ACCESSIBILITY: Yes

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