Martin's Comida Chingona is not a place for people who like fine dining. Nor is it a place for people who like matching furniture, non-disposable eating utensils and guacamole.
However, it is a place for people who like lucha libre (Mexican wrestling), Catholic imagery and tasty, unpretentious Mexican food.
Quirky, small and independent, the restaurant consists of two small rooms. One includes the cash register; a big Mexican flag; a view of Martin—the one and only chef—toiling away in the kitchen; and some odd seating on big, red plush benches. The other room is the main dining area, with five mismatched tables. (There is also sidewalk seating on the Avenue.) The walls are packed with a bevy of art, including Mexican-wrestling-mask murals. They're surrounded by haphazardly hung pieces, including several works focusing on the Virgin Mary/Virgen de Guadalupe, and some paintings from Catherine Eyde's "Women in Space" series. The music coming through the speakers varies; on one visit, it was mellow modern funk; on another, it was loud Spanish-language tunes with a nice beat.
There's so much going on between the music and the art that the food becomes almost secondary—although it's rather good. The menu is fairly simple, offering quesadillas, tacos, tortas, tostadas, burros and egg entrées. As one would expect at a Mexican restaurant, main elements—chicken mole, veggie mole, carne asada, carne con chile, soy chorizo, etc.—are repurposed in a variety of different ways. And the menu is very clear: "¡No guacamole, sour cream or substitutions!" OK then!
On our dinner visit, we split the carne con chile quesadilla ($7.25) to start, while I ordered three of the chicken mole tacos ($2 each), and Garrett picked the burro with carne asada and greens ($8.50). As you order, a paper basket of chips—with a few beans drizzled here and there—is delivered along with a brownish-green salsa that's rather tasty. As I mentioned before, all of the dishes and eating utensils are disposable, made of plastic and paper; I just hope that Martin's recycles.
The quesadilla was no-frills—and served piping hot. It was actually hard to eat, given its temperature and its thinness, but the shredded beef and beans contained therein were satisfying.
My three small tacos—you choose whether you want flour or corn tortillas—were nice, containing a fair amount of chicken before being topped with various greens. My only complaint was that there could have been more of the not-too-sweet mole sauce. Garrett enjoyed his burrito—packed with beans, rice (including a carrot piece or two) and a fair amount of smoky, flavorful steak. However, he felt it could have used a little bit of a moist contrast ... like, um, some guacamole and/or sour cream.
During our lunch visit, I decided to try the huevos rancheros ($7.25), and Garrett ordered the beef torta with carne verde ($8.25). The sandwich—on a flavorful white roll that held together well despite its softness—had a whole lot of flavor, thanks to the meat and the presence of ample green chiles and cilantro. It also had a whole lot of texture, thanks to the inclusion of cabbage, lettuce and onion.
The best thing we ate on either of our visits was the huevos rancheros. Two fried blue-corn tortillas were topped with beans, cheese, soy chorizo, two eggs (over easy) and a surprising amount of vegetables, including squash, tomatoes, onions, broccoli and greens. The vegetables—cooked nicely, and still containing a hint of crispness—were the key to the dish, adding flavor, nuance and texture. I should note, however, that it was a challenge to eat: It was not fun to navigate through the crisp tortillas, on a paper plate, using a plastic knife and fork.
Martin's does not serve alcohol—one of the servers informed us that customers can bring their own—but does offer some killer horchata, along with tamarindo and jamaica (each $2, with a refill included). For dessert, you can get empanadas with fruit filling; we didn't order any, because the server said they were not made in-house, although he assured us that they were "killer."
Martin's fits the Fourth Avenue vibe perfectly: It's fun; it's casual; it's independent; and the food's pretty darned good.