by Molly Reitter

HUNTERSVILLE – Forget the chips and salsa or fish tacos. People come back to the Mexican restaurant Loco Lime in Huntersville for the jalapeno margarita.

The sweet and sour taste of the margarita is tempered with the spice of the fresh, minced jalapenos that might get stuck in your straw.

Or perhaps the people come for the tequila infused with fresh pineapple. The restaurant marinates the liquor for three weeks and then serves it chilled with a slice of tequila-soaked pineapple.

Although the drinks are the star attractions, the food plays an excellent supporting role with recipes featuring homemade salsas and sauces.

Alex Ulloa, manager of the Loco Lime and resident tequila expert, brings out a bottle of 125-year-old Jose Cuervo. The bottle comes in a box that feature Mexican emblems as if done by tattoo artist Ed Hardy. It sells for around $150 – or $20 a shot.

“This is one excellent tequila,” he said caressing the bottle. “Not like that regular Jose Cuervo.”

Ulloa has managed the restaurant for three years. Prior to that, he lived in New York City and completed bartending school there.

“It is fun to think up new ways to serve the drinks,” he said.

Ulloa came to the United States in 1991 after living El Salvador during the period of a long civil war since 1979.

“The language barrier was hard at first,” he said. “But I really do feel very accepted here.”

Ulloa brings out head chef Orlando Lopez from the kitchen. Lopez is from Guatemala and speaks very little English. In fact, the entire kitchen is a cross section of Mexico and South America. Ulloa calls Lopez “the magician in the kitchen” because he can cook, manage and get out tasty food in a timely manner. He started high school in Guatemala but did not get to finish.

He has also been at Loco Lime for three years.

“I love eating,” Lopez said with a grin. “I love being close to the food.”

His favorite dish is the enchiladas with potato and shrimp. Potatoes are common in Mexican and South American cooking. They rival corn as the oldest and most-used crop. In this dish, the corn tortillas hold small pieces of shrimp, potato, tomato and onion topped with salsa verde and queso blanco.

Fitz Torres, of Charlotte, came to the restaurant for a change.

“We always eat at the Chinese place close to our house,” he said. “Today, we wanted something different. We wanted to try the delicious tacos.”

Many of the patrons are return customers.

“We have regulars who come two to three times a week,” Ulloa said. “The food has got to be good to have that kind of a following.”

Waitress Romi Chevez makes guacamole right at the table with fresh avocados and a choice of ingredients to customize the flavor. She is from Michoacán, a state in western Mexico. As she expertly chops, minces and stirs, she says how much she loves working at the Loco Lime.

“I just love the people,” she said in a lovely, lilting accent. “This is my first job in a restaurant and I am learning so much.”

The guacamole, served with homemade chips, is fresh and perfectly seasoned.

Ulloa presents the flan with a flourish and places it on the table. Just like everything else in the restaurant, aside from the tortillas, it is homemade.

“And we are working on making our own tortillas,” he said with a smile. The flan is well done with excellent consistency and flavor. In fact, all the food seems to be quite tasty and nicely presented with large portions.

But it’s hard to forget that jalapeno margarita. Definitely, worth a return trip.

Loco Lime

13016 Eastfield Road, Huntersville