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Culinary class act: Papagayo A downtown winter getaway

What is it

It’s difficult to want to do anything at this point in the winter, and, for that matter, the school year. As assignments (and maybe snow from a freak blizzard) pile up, it’s tempting to just hunker down and wait for the grass to turn green again.

Until spring arrives though, Papagayo can serve as your replacement for colour, flowers and a bit of excitement. The bright, homey Mexican restaurant stands out from many of the dull storefronts on the strip of King Street West it inhabits.

Portion sizes (with respect to both meals and cocktails) are generous, and the dining room feels welcoming and full of art. The fan-folded napkins and tablecloths feel a bit dated, but that is part of Papagayo’s charm: it’s not a modern tacqueria, and it has no illusions of being one.

How to get there from Westdale/Ainslie Wood

Take any downtown bus to Main and Caroline. Walk north to King Street West and turn left. The restaurant is about half a block west, at 246 King Street West.

Price range

Papagayo is the perfect destination for a small occasion. Dinner entrees average out to around $15, and lunch items are mostly priced at $10.50.

Perhaps not the cheapest place on the block, Papagayo’s food is absolutely worth the extra few dollars. Everything I’ve ever tried tastes homemade and all the flavours work perfectly together. They also post specials on their Instagram account (@papagayohamilton).

Must-order item

The mole con pollo is a perfect-sized dinner dish. The mole sauce has a little kick, but it’s completely manageable for even those who don’t usually like spice.

The sides are also prepared with care; the refried beans are delicious with the Mexican-style rice, and the whole dish comes together as a cozy, filling treat.

On the drinks side of the menu, Papagayo’s strawberry daiquiris are unbeatable. They use real strawberries to flavour the drink, making it seem like summer has come early, at least until the last sip.

Why it’s great 

Papagayo is not a fancy experience, and even less so is it a foodie experience.

Unlike other modern Mexican/Mexican-inspired eateries, Papagayo’s dishes are presented without pretension or aspirations of becoming a mouth-watering Instagram post. It’s just good food.

It’s a great distance from campus, being far enough away that it feels like you’ve left the McMaster area without going so far away that you have to commit to a serious amount of travel time.

It’s also a great place to spend time with friends. The spaciousness of the dining room allows for mid-size parties to be accommodated with ease and they offer plenty of appetizers that are great for sharing with a group.

The relaxing environment, great food and drinks and good company make Papagayo the perfect place to unwind and forget about that assignment you have due at the end of the week.

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