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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


About two years ago I took a vacation to a remote island in the Philippines, where I spent a week eating mangoes on a palm-fringed beach under cobalt skies. Then I moved to Moscow.

I noticed right away that there were far fewer mangoes here, but hey, there's more to life than fresh fruit, right? Wrong. This is why I am happy to report that the sangria at Hola Mexico, a new restaurant near Kuznetsky Most, is full of fresh fruit. Forget the ice and snow outside, and step into virtual sangria reality. The more you drink of this delectable ambrosia, the closer you get to the equator. Apparently it's the same with all the cocktails at Hola Mexico: From the look of bliss on my friend's face, she and her pina colada were practically in Costa Rica.

Stocking its cocktails with star fruit gives a restaurant a lot to live up to, but prospective diners, take heart: Hola Mexico meets the challenge. The nachos were the only culinary faux pas in the entire meal (too few chips for $5, salsa on the bland side), and they were easily forgotten.

We stuck to the fresh produce theme when picking our appetizers, passing over the chef's namesake, Quesadilla de Angelo ($10 or $11 depending on the filling), and the chili con carne ($9), to the salads. Unable to decide between the avocado salad ($8) and the grilled Acapulco salad ($12), I ordered the former for myself and assigned the latter to my compliant friend. This may turn out to be the biggest favor I've ever done her, because the grilled salad was undoubtedly the crown jewel of the meal. Half a dozen shrimp on a bed of lettuce surrounded by succulent eggplant, yellow and green peppers, zucchini and tomatoes, highlighted by slices of sweet grapefruit and bathed in a delicate vinaigrette, it walked that fine line between elegant and just-off-the-backyard-grill. Perfection on a plate.

My avocado salad was simple by comparison -- a whole avocado, sliced and served with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and onions -- but the accompanying vegetables' vivid colors rendered it a thing of beauty. If there is more to life than fresh fruit, it might be fresh vegetables.

Hola Mexico's main courses run the gamut from the humble burrito ($12 to $17, depending on the filling) to the regal stuffed queen lobster for $75. We were especially intrigued by the rabbit in mole sauce ($20) and the duck in tequila sauce ($20) but opted for two more standard dishes, a chimichanga and a fajita. Both were superb. My chicken fajita ($17) arrived sizzling, a heaping, cast-iron plateful of tender chicken and chunky vegetables with four flour tortillas and sour cream and hot sauce on the side. I only managed to eat half, but a very tasty half it was. The chicken chimichanga ($14), came with zesty rice and vegetables, and was also delicious -- and it held its shape, always a plus for the diner inclined to make a mess.

A word of commendation regarding Hola Mexico's portion sizes and presentation. Often in Mexican restaurants I find that the sheer mass of food piled on my plate is so overwhelming that my appetite falters on the spot. Hola Mexico, without pretensions to overly aesthetic tableaux, arranges its servings artistically and avoids the dreaded "heap of amorphous food" effect by combining a variety of shapes, colors and textures in each dish. The restaurant's decor also merits praise. Located in a spacious room below street level, Hola Mexico is colorfully but not garishly decorated; we found it very inviting.

My friend was too full even to look at the dessert menu, but I felt duty-bound to press on, regretting that I had room for only one dish. (I'll have to go back to try the pears in wine and chocolate sauce). Our waitress showed us the night's cake selection ($8 per slice), and I decided on the chocolate cake, with layers separated by mousse and an almond topping. It arrived garnished with sliced banana, kiwi and strawberries, and tasted as good as it looked, flavorful but not overly sweet. Cups of tea ($3) and cappuccino ($4) finished off the meal, leaving us with plans for a return trip. After all, we haven't tried the margaritas.

-- Radhika Jones

Hola Mexico, located at 7/5 Pushechnaya Ulitsa, is open from noon to 5 a.m. Rubles and credit cards accepted. Tel. 925-8251, 924-7764. Metro: Kuznetsky Most.