Every now and then, instead of reviewing the latest thing, we revisit a timeless classic. This month, Cactus Pear in Clifton won the spot. Why the Pear? Because it offers consistently good Tex-Mex cuisine and service, great outdoor dining and some of the strongest Margaritas and Mojitos known to humankind.
But when we say Tex-Mex, we’re not talking vegetable and steak fajitas and chili con queso. Oh, no. At the Pear, you’ll find original takes on classics, like Spinach Queso with jack cheese and herbs and Caribbean Fajitas with jerk BBQ chicken, sweet potatoes, zucchini and pineapple salsa. An all-time favorite is the Red Pepper Noodles with grilled chicken, green peppers, pico de gallo and mushrooms. If there are 8 million pastas in the naked city, this is one of the best.
On a recent Thursday night, my good friend and I (we’ll call her “Friend”) stopped by the Pear to see if it was everything it was a year ago, the last time I’d been there. Sigh — it was. While I was never a fan of the atmosphere — it can be a bit dark — there was the same friendly, down-to-earth service and loud, lively ambiance you usually find in restaurants on weekends.
By friendly service, I mean that when Friend sent away her Mojito ($7) because the rum was too strong and called the server back later to resurrect half of it and let me try it, our server was more than happy to do so.
Even though there was a loud party in the back room — which can be reserved for table parties — we could still make important girl-talk.
While chatting, we indulged in the Spinach Queso ($7.95), which was not your ordinary spinach dip. Here we had a lightly spiced, thick and real Jack cheese that stuck to the dish — you could pull it a good 5 inches from the dish before it was yours. Definitely some of the best spinach dip around — it had substance and wasn’t just a gooey mess — and the warm pita was the perfect complement.
Even though the appetizer was nice, we really didn’t need it because we had plenty of fresh corn chips and salsa, which is excellent — salty with plenty of chipotle. Meanwhile, the guacamole was lightly garlicked with a touch of tomato; my friend loved it. I thought it was OK, but was still spoiled by the guacamole I recently had at Frontera in Chicago (garlicky and sweetened with sun-dried tomatoes, a lovely addition).
Our entrées were not a disappointment. Friend found her pan-seared Salmon ($17.95) fresh and lovely. But she wasn’t as fond of the sweet potatoes, which she found overdone with apple and vinegar, or the spinach, which was too salty. I enjoyed my Burrito ($11.95) — you can order it with eggplant, portobello, chicken or beef. (Cactus Pear is very vegetarian-friendly.) The great thing was that our server went out of her way to accommodate my food allergies, and we substituted the mole sauce for the tomatillo. Brilliant! While I enjoyed the mole, it was a little too chocolately; they could have been more subtle on the cocoa.
Still, we had a fabulous time at the Pear, and everything came together — great food, strong drinks, reasonable prices, fast, friendly service and an atmosphere where we could chat.
Go: Clifton: 3215 Jefferson Ave.; Blue Ash: 9500 Kenwood Road
Call: Clifton: 513-961-7400; Blue Ash: 513-791-4424
Hours: Clifton: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; 5-11 p.m. Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday. Blue Ash: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 pm Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
Entrée Prices: $7.95-$18.95
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: Fully accessible