Howdy doo, neighbourinos? Nidourinos? Nay, burritos!
I realised yesterday that I have weird hang-ups over Mexican restaurants. The long-and-short is that I don’t really know how to pick the good from the bad. Yet I seem to have arbitrary distinctions that effectively mean nothing. I’ve got an aversion to places with really cheap, borderline word-art signage. You know the places, their menus will have a red/green/yellow gradient background with black comic sans font over the top. There’ll be grainy menu photos of poorly presented food. I take a look at that and turn away in search of somewhere better. Then on the flip side, if there’s a super high-class Mexican restaurant I’ll turn my nose up at that too. Mexican cuisine seems a combination of basic foods and I don’t mean that in any derogatory sense. Rice, beans, fresh vegetables, salsa and guacamole all simply but skillfully cooked. If I see a Mexican restaurant trying to bring in foot traffic on the basis of their cocktail menu it makes me wonder what they’re compensating for. Is it worth paying extra for that kind of décor? Not in my mind. So what do I go for? Midrange looking places. How do I even judge something like that?
As my girlfriend pointed out, my best option by my own biases is picking out the cheaper places. They’re probably focusing on the food, not the ambience. If I don’t want lavish meals with fusion inspired concoctions, why don’t I follow the KISS principle and follow what I’m actually looking for? It’s not to say that upmarket places are trash, just that they’re not my ideal. Hell, my girlfriend and I went into a gaudy looking place yesterday with the most earnest chef behind the counter. He really wanted us to enjoy our meals and asked how he could make the experience special for us. The burrito bowl we shared was delicious, filling and packed with flavour. Not flashy, but exactly what we wanted.
What’s the point of any of this?
I guess it’s to say that a lot of us walk around with long-held biases that are entrenched so far in the past they’re almost entirely meaningless. It’s possible that at some stage in the past I walked into a cheap Mexican restaurant and had a crappy meal and my brain formed a causal link. Perhaps that never even happened and instead an opinion leader of mine once made a negative comment and it stuck firm. I have no idea what made me give the side eye to these kind of establishments, but it’s frankly absurd. If an individual, rather than a chain, has invested what they have into a small restaurant, they’re probably quite secure in their culinary prowess.
Furthermore, where do I think I come off as any kind of expert on Mexican food? New Zealand is so far away from the rest of the world that Mexican food was always pretty scarce. We used Old El Paso kits at home to do taco and burrito nights. I made many a nacho plate in my bachelor years. That hardly affords me a Michelin Star or reputation as a bastion of culinary prowess, does it? Fresh ingredients and understanding of flavours are all that I need. Which part of a comic sans menu negates that again?
That’s an entirely different abuse of good taste.