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Even with a rambunctious 3-year-old, Elkhart Dining Days offerings at Mod Mex hit the spot

It was supposed to be about the food. And it was, for the most part.

But then Nico, my 3-year-old son, dropped his fork. And his straw. He started shoving tortilla chips into his mouth, partially biting them on one of the pointy ends and smashing them the rest of the way in with his palm.

First things first — Mod-Mex Restaurant is one of several eateries offering up special lunch and dinner offerings for Elkhart Dining Days, an event that goes through Oct. 25. A portion of sales from the special menus goes to the Food Bank of Elkhart County.

I ordered pork tenderloin for dinner one night, and it was great. I go to plenty of Mexican restaurants here in Elkhart, but usually traditional places, the sort tucked away in Mexican markets that feature dollar taco days, orange rice and televisions blaring melodramatic Spanish-language telenovelas.

Mod Mex is a different animal, offering up higher-end food that it touts as a “fusion of old Mexico and modern Mexican cuisine.”

The dish I ordered featured pork tenderloin chunks in a ranchera, or tomato-based sauce, with peppers and onions. It had a nice bite to it — I’m talking heat — but it didn’t overwhelm, didn’t leave me with the hiccups or smoke coming out my ears. Unlike the usual Mexican places I visit, they went easier – much easier – on the salt, which was nice, also making for a more subtle taste experience.

I put the pork tenderloin mix in tortillas, which come with the plate, and topped it off, variously, with the guacamole and honey chipotle sauces. Also part of the $20 deal was a guacamole dip for the afore-mentioned chips, the ones Nico was smashing into his pie hole. Mod Mex takes pride in its guacamole and Dining Days participants have several varieties to choose from (I picked mango).

Unlike the sometimes raucous, laissez-faire ambiance of the more traditional Mexican places, Mod Mex is a bit more upscale and pricey (no $1 tacos). It’s also more sophisticated (they don’t offer crayons for coloring the paper place mats, so Nico and my 6-year-old daughter had to make do with my pens).

I felt self-conscious about having kids who sometimes yell, though no one seemed to look askance at us. Which brings me back to Nico, his dropped fork, his dropped everything. When he started losing interest in the food and wandered to the next table over to explore, I knew it was time to start winding things down.

Food, though, was a joy.

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