Sangrias is a subtle restaurant, easy to underestimate if you don’t pay attention. There is a slightly subversive element in how they prepare and present their Mexican favorites, trying to be about 95% traditional and 5% creative.  They serve up dishes: pork ranchero and carnitas michoachan style and they look normal, as if they could have come out of any Atlanta chain. Then you try their tomatillo sauce and whoa.. hardly Atlanta Tex Mex.

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pork rancheros.

carnitas

carnitas

It’s a game they play throughout the menu, of trying to appear the way customers would want their food and then adding just a twist to keep people from going, “same old same old”. And of course it’s just about impossible to understand unless you show up on Tuesday nights, when the owner begins to show off his Puerto Rican roots and pulls out Puerto Rican dishes. I recently had their biftec encebollado, a thin marinated steak served with a lot of red beans and white rice. This leads to a story that one of my coworkers once told me:

I go on Tuesday nights and I get their camarones a la criolla and I mix it with everything: the white rice, the red beans, everything. I really like it. The owner walks by and asks me, surprised, “What are you doing to my dish?” And I reply, “It’s good – want to try  some?”

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Perhaps the best dish my family has had their recently is their tacos asada, which can be steak, chicken or pork served “asada style”. It’s a new dish on the menu, and close in character to the tacos you can get at the mom n’ pop taquerias. Yes, Sangrias pays attention to trends.

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Service here is good, but depending on where you sit, it can sometimes be slow. There is a bar area, with televisions and such, and it tends to be understaffed. The people watching at the bar, though, is great. Thin men in brown tanned skin, ponytails, and cowboy gear sit next to pale IT pros in kahkis and blues. The ethnic mix of customers is a spectrum of colors.

Also noteworthy, the cheesecake flan of Sangria’s has a well deserved reputation.

In short, this isn’t a place where it pays to be too traditional or formal with the menu. You need to explore, because Sangrias, to use a musical analogy, isn’t playing classical from sheet music. This is a jazz joint, ad libbing on the edges of more formal music, and it’s in the specials, the Tuesday nights, the new dishes, where you can hear this restaurant really belt one.

Verdict: Classic Mexican and border favorites with a subversive twist here and there. Highly recommended.

Sangria’s Mexican Cafe
4369 Hugh Howell Road
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 270-1777

Sangria's Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon

Notes: Sangria’s is in a strip mall dominated by an abandoned Ace Hardware store, roughly opposite the Publix shopping center. It doesn’t face the Hugh Howell side, and facing the empty Ace building, is actually on the left hand side. You should see a bunch of cars parked there. Yes, they’re all going to Sangria’s.