This immensely popular source of budget nourishment in Northampton, along with a smaller, quieter outlet in Amherst, maintains an ever- expanding fan club by serving big portions of truly authentic Mexican food-a rarity on this coast-at supremely reasonable prices. You might have to queue up prior to ordering off the large, handwritten menu that features prominently above the counter. Nonetheless, the short- order system works well for spur-of-the-moment take-out or an easy, sit-down lunch.
Totopos (tortilla chips) are just okay, and the salsa bar is good, but
the burritos are the main event. They're large and squat, stuffed with copious quantities of rice and beans plus cheese, lettuce, tomato, and fillings such as steak and chicken (we favor the potato/carrot and nopal-cactus leaf-versions, although it brings yet another guest of honor to the carbohydrate convention). But beyond this concession to California, the menu is full of regional surprises, especially among the seasonal specials that are tacked up to the walls surrounding the
regular menu. The enterprising owner hails from Xalapa but draws regional recipes from all over Mexico. Puebla, for instance, is represented with a sweet, satisfying tang by an excellent chicken mole, while the enfrijoladas-fried corn tortillas with beans and sour cream- are a wonderful vegetarian dish common in Oaxaca, but rarely found on American menus. Baja California tosses its hat into the ring with fish tacos that are well textured if a bit under-spiced. Quesadillas are the real thing, just corn tortillas fried with cheese, and they're great.
La Ver's feel is easygoing from start to finish. The walls are painted in pleasing reddish hues with a rotating selection of local artwork of drastically variable quality. But something is missing from the atmosphere, especially at the Northampton branch. Maybe it's the shape or layout of the soaring space, with too-high ceilings and a big void (for the queue) between rows of unimaginative bench-style and booth seating. In short, the place's ambiance doesn't really call out for an intimate rendez-vous - or even a relaxing dinner. The cozier Amherst branch has about the same menu and a similar college-style feel as its Northampton counterpart; Amherst is smaller, with lower ceilings, but loses points for the cheap-looking tile floors. La Ver is still more of a lunch stop than anything else. Nonetheless, the reliably tasty food, appealing value proposition, and laid-back friendliness earn it a well- deserved stream of bustling business, especially during the academic year.