Tantalizing and fiery, Latin-inspired cuisine heats up chilly Berkshires

Looking for a delicious way to turn up the heat during the chilly Williamstown fall? If you’re in need of some spice in your life, head to the nearest Latin or Latin-inspired stop.

If you’re feeling swanky and chic, then Mass MOCA’s Café Latino is the spot for you. Fusion is la ultima moda here. While the unusual combinations may cause a raised eyebrow or two, you won’t regret taking a chance on this spectacular menu. First, request the cup of Café Chowder, a hearty and filling soup whose mixture of chives with corn gives a boring New England box-step a little ritmo. To maximize the experience, order a side of tostones for dipping in the soup as well as the amazing lime crema or spicy black mint salsas.

Now that your taste buds are warmed up, the fish taco entrada sizzles lightly across your tongue, contrasting the sweet jicama to end in a mouthful of great texture and spice, tempered ever so slightly by a lime crema accompaniment. If your palate is still craving a sweet ending, try the chocolate cake, a moist spongy disc of chocolate delight drizzled with raspberry sauce and a scoop of ice cream.

Overall, the surprising combinations of Café Latino exceeded my expectations. The wait staff was attentive, polite and friendly. While the ambiance of the place suggests a certain level of snobbishness, the service is anything but. The prices push Café Latino just out of reach for the average starving student, but when the parents are in town, stop by this chic eatery to show how cultured college life has made you.

Just when you think that Williamstown might not be so chilly after all, the flavorless dishes of Desperado’s send you back to the icy doldrums of February. While it proves to be the exception to the rule of generally good Latin restaurants, Desperado’s might be a great refuge for those among us whose idea of piquancy is mild salsa. This is the perfect place to go if your entry is craving an adventure.

Whatever the case, the burrito was reminiscent of Wrap Night at Greylock, but at least with a side of friendly service. Be warned: even if you add half a bottle of hot sauce to your burrito, it will not, I repeat, WILL NOT become spicy and flavorful! Instead, try to order a Mexican beer (preferably not Dos Equis or Corona) to liven up the meal.

Picture this: a budget-friendly menu, close proximity to campus and super pleasant service. What’s missing? El sabor (flavor), that’s what! The atmosphere is quite relaxed, and makes for a calm dining experience. Offering traditional Mexican fare, only considerably less seasoned, the Desperados experience has me wondering if el bandito made off with the spices.

Coyote Flaco turns up the heat with house margaritas that tantalize the taste buds and salsas that tickle the tongue. A visit to el flaco reaffirmed my faith in Latin restaurants near campus.

From the moment you enter the restaurant, its cozy atmosphere and attentive wait staff beckons you in. The homey feel of the restaurant extends to its menus, where you will find traditional favorites such as the tequila sunrise and sangria on the cocktail menu, as well as a good selection of wines to accompany the meal. If tequila is your drink of choice, the stunning array of more than thirty different tequilas is sure to please even the pickiest sipper, but buyers beware, a little overindulgence in these alcoholic treats will boggle the senses.

For starters, the salsa served with tortilla chips was refreshingly juicy, but the gambas al ajillo really set the tone for the rest of the meal by kicking it up a few notches to leave the taste buds pleasantly buzzing. The Quesadilla Linda had the perfect proportions of fillings for me, and the rice was especially flavorful as well. The quesadilla was served with not one, but two amazing salsas, my favorite of which was flavored with zesty cilantro and lime.

The portions at Coyote Flaco are generous, so be sure to save room for dessert, especially the apple chimichanga. Juicy apple slices are rolled in buttery, flaky pastry crust to make a fine ending to a great meal. The one missing thing that would have made it a slice of heaven was a little vanilla custard. The Coyote Flaco dining experience is a nice reward after a hard week of midterms, or the perfect place for a friend’s cozy birthday celebration.

If you’re looking to add a little zip of Latin flavor to your Williamstown experience, there are definitely options available. While Latin-inspired restaurants are not quite so abundant in our neck of the woods, if you know where to look, you can find quite a few hot tamales out there for a great dining experience.