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Fresh, fun flair at Mucho Gusto

Combining fresh choices with authentic flair, quick service and a couple bargains on the menu, Mucho Gusto checks all the right boxes to become anyone's ideal lunchtime spot.

The fresh-Mex restaurant inside the McAndrews Marketplace strip mall — not to be confused with the similar-sounding Muchas Gracias — has been a mainstay promising "Mex to your specs" in Medford since March 2007.

The restaurant, open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., offers a deceptively simple menu with plenty of opportunity for variety in the details, but the spot has long been home to my favorite fish tacos in Oregon.

Making those fish tacos my favorite starts with fresh, hand-cut pieces of Alaskan cod that are beer-breaded before fried to juicy perfection.

The next steps require a little restraint, something I find a challenge in Subway-style restaurants daring me to add all the complimentary vegetables.

On Monday, I went for shredded cabbage, cotija cheese, cilantro, pico de gallo salsa and their cool, green lime-cilantro sour cream on top of grilled corn tortillas for their two-taco plate ($9.95), which came with Mexican-style rice and my choice of beans.

Those generously-sized tacos, or actually any of their tacos, can be ordered a la carte for $3.45 each. A side of chips adds 50 cents, making for a tasty light lunch that undercuts Taco Bell where the pocketbook is concerned. One caveat: Decline salsa with your chips or watch the register jump three dollars.

On a later visit, I took my own advice and ordered two tacos a la carte — one with carnitas braised in orange juice and garlic and another with shredded USDA Choice beef marinated in Mexican spices. Both meats were juicy, flavorful and as easy to recommend.

Other protein choices include tofu or chicken, both baked in a fire-roasted tomato and chipotle sauce.

Instead of the soft corn tortillas, I went for the chewy fried shell on my second visit. The shells seem to be larger than the soft option. For those who haven't tried it, the shell is similar to a thinner Taco Bell chalupa shell, but containing both corn and flour.

For veggies, I went for cabbage and romaine lettuce, cilantro and flavorful diced jalapenos. I went with hot chipotle-corn salsa, and green tomatillo-chile was the medium salsa choice. 

My cheese choices were grated cotija cheese or shredded cheddar-jack. I couldn't decide so I went with both, which the server happily obliged.

Complimentary sauces include plain sour cream, the aforementioned lime-cilantro sour cream, and two vinaigrettes — pepita-citrus or sweet chipotle. Guacamole or fresh mango salsa cost extra. There's also bottles of Tapatilo, Cholula and green Tabasco hot sauces handy.

For those who somehow want the same fillings in a different shaped tortilla, or without a tortilla at all, there's the hearty burrito, the tortilla-free burrito bowl, the light-portioned tostada, the grande salad served in a fried tortilla shell, or the Mucho Dip, served with bottomless chips. Meal prices range from $6.95 to $11.95.

The high ceilings and raw concrete do echo more noise than other restaurants, but it works fine for the spot's grab-and-go nature. 

Despite being nearly a decade old, the restaurant still makes a colorful and fresh impression. Polished raw surfaces, neon signs and splashes of color convey the fresh, fun, back-to-basics attitude. 

Fish tacos with slaw, salsa and avocado dressing are a favorite at Mucho Gusto in Medford. Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan