Salt & Lime Cabo Grill wants to please its patrons. On one evening, the manager twice questioned a diner about certain dishes, and the bartender visited from across the room seeking feedback on dessert drinks. This was in addition to the usual server inquiries.
Its eagerness is paying off. Since it arrived on the north Raleigh scene in February, lunch and dinner have been busy. Even late on a Monday it was crowded. Customers dot the room at scattered tables and at the bar. Still more enjoy the patio seating in back.
The space is comfortable, though perhaps a little too scrubbed for my taste. Starburst light fixtures crowd the ceiling. An arrangement of coastal artwork dominates one wall. Pieces that look as if they could've come from Ikea or Target hang in other spots. A chalkboard near the bar lists the day's specials—"wine-down Wednesday," "taco Tuesday," etc., along with, on one day at least, the surf report for Cabo San Lucas, Ensenada and the Outer Banks (6–8 feet at Cabo, only 3–4 at the other two). It's nice, but the décor has a chain feel, despite this being Salt and Lime's only location.
The restaurant's food is far less generic. Don't expect traditional Mexican dishes: Salt & Lime's menu is drawn from California's southern coastal region. Yes, there are tacos and burritos, but the fillings are more likely to be seafood or barbecue. In some cases it's both: The Cabo BBQ Mahi nabs best in show honors. Two tortillas are stuffed with smoky chunks of mahi mahi mingled with cabo slaw, guacamole, roasted tomato salsa and a citrus-cilantro cream. The barbecue flavor imparts an unexpected earthiness.
Chicken Tinga Tacos arrive in similar bulging fashion. (Salt & Lime does not skimp on portions.) Pulled chicken is complemented by napa-romaine slaw, black bean-jicama rice, cotija cheese and a spicy ranch sauce that easily overcame my general disdain for ranch flavoring. The heat of the spice lingered agreeably.
Island Shrimp Tacos are constructed around jerk-spiced shrimp and Caribbean mango salsa. A companion raved over them, saying they topped the shrimp tacos enjoyed on a recent beach trip.
A pulled pork burrito on the lunch menu maintains dinner's quality and quantity standards. Bursting with braised pork, cilantro rice, onions, jack cheese and barbecue sauce, it's too daunting for just a fork. Fortunately a heavy-duty knife is provided to cut through all the layers inside the grilled tortilla. Flavorful sides of black beans and slaw accompany the burrito.
In light of the bountiful entrées, finding room for dessert is a challenge, but just for you, dear reader, I did. You'll want to as well because the Spiced Sugar Churros are little dollops of white-chocolate-infused joy. The Coconut Tres Leches Cake is worth saving room for, too, if not for the delicately moist cake then for the cinnamon ice cream flaked with toasted coconut riding alongside.
You could opt for a dessert drink such as a Key Lime Martini or S'mores Martini. (I long ago gave up on railing against calling anything with more than vermouth and gin or vodka in it a martini. Almost all bars do.) These filling after-dinner drinks could easily serve as dessert. Having spent many years in Florida, I found the Key Lime drink good, but not quite up to South Beach standards. The S'mores delivers the chocolate sweetness you would anticipate.
While we're at the bar, it's worth noting that Salt & Lime boasts numerous brands of tequila with representatives in the anejo, blanco and reposado styles. Options include Patron, Milagro Reserve, Don Julio, El Ultimo, Avion, Herradura, El Mayor and Cabo Wabo, among others. They also have several specialty margaritas on the menu: Desert Fire, Cadillac, La Playa and Beachbum are a few. During the summer heat a Razzyberry from the fruit-infused section makes a fine afternoon refresher.
If you're looking for albondigas or carne en su jugo, this is not the destination for you. But if you're seeking carefully prepared and generously served Mexican food with a California twist, then Salt & Lime aims to please.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Palate pleasers."