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Xilakil Latin Fusion gets an upscale upgrade

A year since updating the Latin food genre in Southern Oregon, Xilakil Latin Fusion has gained a more upscale atmosphere.

Opening as a quick-service eatery with a make-it-your-way approach similar to Chipotle Mexican Grill, Xilakil reinvented itself last fall. Now offering tableside service, the South Medford restaurant has a list of specialty cocktails and alcoholic beverages that’s almost as long as its food menu.

A dozen “classic plates” merge Mexican and Southern California street foods with authentic specialties at Xilakil. The menu expands to egg dishes for Sunday brunch. Just as it dispenses with the fajitas and enchiladas common to this region’s Mexican restaurants, Xilakil divests itself of any cultural kitsch and instead plays up a sports-bar vibe with broad appeal.

Yet diners have the chance to sample flavors beloved in Los Angeles but lesser known north of the border. The Cali-burrito and Cali-chimichanga ($9.99 and $10.99) each are stuffed with french fries, meat of choice and other fillings. The “hot Cheeto corn” ($4.50) is a corncob slathered with a garlicky paste of mayonnaise and sour cream, then coated in crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — in other words, one of Southern California’s favorite guilty pleasures. And the sweet corn tamale ($3.50), with flourishes of dolce de leche (similar to caramel) and sweetened-condensed milk over the delicate masa, is an authentic way to conclude a meal.

I’d sampled Xilakil’s chilaquiles ($7.99) and flautas clasicas ($8.99) on previous visits and deemed the latter — crisp-fried, house-made corn tortillas encasing shredded chicken — worthy of a repeat.

Essentially sauce-smothered tortilla chips with toppings, the chilaquiles are classic Latin comfort food but become a little mushy for my tastes once they soak up all the sauce.

I eagerly requested the chile relleno ($8.99) upon confirming that Xilakil prepares a whole, stuffed chile, rather than a cheesy, chile-laced omelet, which passes for the dish at other Latin establishments locally. My sister chose the taco plate with shrimp ($10), which added a dollar to the standard price for asada, chicken, carnitas, tinga or vegan chorizo fillings.

And because we both wanted a cocktail, an appetizer also was in order. We debated the merits of the poblano dip ($7.50) or smoked panela ($6.50), settling on the dip when the server vouched for its larger size. Combining mescal, cucumber, mint, lime and ginger, the “mezcalina” ($9.50) tempted both of us. Disappointed to hear that the IPA usually on tap was out, our friend contented himself with a Hefeweizen.

Passably hot, our dip consisted of more sliced onions and poblano chiles than sour cream. It’s an attractive option for diners who want a mild medium for dunking chips. Next time, I would choose the grilled panela cheese for its toppings of roasted chile sauce and garlic. Tostones ($9.50) — grilled plantain topped with avocado and choice of meat — is another appealing appetizer, along with yuca fries ($3.50) and chicharron ($3).

Also mild, the flautas’ creamy jalapeno sauce covers much of the plate, contrasting nicely with the tortillas’ crunch. I requested the lettuce on the side, but the dish typically is crowned with enough greens and pico de gallo to almost constitute a salad.

My sister enjoyed her tacos but commented that she’d had better in Portland’s various taquerias. I thought — but didn’t voice — that carnitas or tinga are better fillings, and the vegan chorizo, made from soy, is perhaps the spiciest of all and surprisingly delicious.

The chile relleno easily stole the show, striking just the right balance of smokiness and spiciness, richly flavored by an eggy batter but still light, owing to a filling of black beans, rather than meat. Swimming in a pool of house-made tomato sauce, the chile didn’t offer much of a textural counterpoint but had the merit of being meltingly tender, needing just the slightest fork-tine pressure to penetrate.

We likely would have ordered another cocktail while polishing off the meal but were slightly deterred by the cost. While Xilakil’s food prices seem fair, cocktails are a little on the high side (most $8.50), although my sister and I remarked that the bartender certainly wasn’t skimping on alcohol. If it wasn’t so late in the day, I would have chased the meal with a dirty horchata ($4), a coffee-spiked variation on the beloved milky drink that mingles rice, vanilla and cinnamon.

Xilakil’s wine list includes such local labels as RoxyAnn, Del Rio and Irvine & Roberts, plus some other domestic brands. Glass prices run from $6.50 to $12.50. Worker’s Pale Ale, brewed in Medford, numbers among beers on tap. Corona, Pacifico and Modelo can be had in bottles.

Located at 1361 Center Drive, Xilakil is next to Sherwin-Williams in the South Gateway area. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, serving brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 541-500-8061.

Tempo tidbits

-- The new Tap & Vine in Medford is the brainchild of longtime brewer and pub manager Adam Benson. Formerly of Caldera and Standing Stone brewing companies in Ashland, Benson brings a combined 17 years of experience from both operations. Benson and executive chef William Shine elevate pub fare into a culinary experience, said Cory LeeAnn Shaw, marketing director for LBG Real Estate, which owns Tap & Vine’s venue at the Medford Center. A Medford native and industry veteran, Shine infuses the menu with Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern and classic American influences. The chef has cooked in some of the region’s most celebrated kitchens, including the Jacksonville Inn, Ashland Springs Hotel, Omar’s and Ashland’s erstwhile Chateaulin. Tap & Vine opened in mid-January at 559 Medford Center, in The Village across from Tinseltown.

-- Hospitality at Ashland’s Winchester Inn and Alchemy Restaurant and Bar has extended across South Second Street to Smithfields. Innkeepers Michael, Laurie and Drew Gibbs purchased the meat-centric restaurant in late December from founder Neil Clooney, who still owns Bird & Rye. Closed for almost a month, Smithfields quietly reopened in late January much the same as before. Citing the restaurant’s “huge following,” Drew Gibbs said Smithfields will retain a persona distinct from his family’s other ventures. Diners can expect some new meat and seafood selections beginning in spring that reinforce Smithfields’ steakhouse feel, rather than the Southern cuisine that Clooney explored more recently. With its own executive chef, said Gibbs, Smithfields still retains a focus on sourcing locally produced foods.

-- The following Medford restaurants in January received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health: Abby’s Pizza (South Riverside Avenue), All American Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt, Angelo’s Pizza Parlor, Arby’s, Black Rock Coffee (Rossanley Drive), Auntie Carol’s Hawaiian Cafe & Catering, Barnett Woods, Cafe Dejeuner, Carl’s Jr. (Stewart Avenue), Dairy Queen (East Barnett Road, Morrow Road and West Main Street), Downtown Market Co., Elmer’s Restaurant, Flamingo’s Sandwiches (Highland Drive), Flavor Restaurant & Bar, Human Bean (South Pacific Highway), India’s Kitchen, Inn at the Commons, Jackson Creek Pizza Pub & Sub (Delta Waters Road), Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.

Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to thewholedish@gmail.com

Corn tortillas are filled with chicken tinga and fried for flautas clasicas at Xilakil Latin Fusion in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon
The chile relleno is dressed with tomato sauce at Xilakil Latin Fusion in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon