Overrated/Underrated: Mexican Restaurants, Part Two

July 02, 2009 | Comments (0) | by Ginger Russ

I adjusted my list for the Underrated since my last post to include a couple more topics. However, since this post would pretty much be a novel if I included them all, and I still have to pick up Chaim's tuxedo pants from the dry cleaner (I accidentally picked up Chip Wesley's dry cleaning last night, no wonder it was shaped like a fairy princess dress) I moved a couple of the original items to Perfectly Rated.

Perfectly Rated:

Black Beans: Order them instead of refried beans. Tastier and healthier.
Mexican Beer: Corona is shit. But Negra Modelo is underrated, so it evens out.
Numero Uno: How can you go wrong with one beef taco, one beef enchilada, and one beef tostada, served with beans? Perfect staple menu item.

And so I bring you the Underrated:

Free Chips and Salsa.
Chips and salsa are far superior to rolls and butter. Period. Okay, your one exception is the Red Lobster Cheese Biscuit, but if you're that desperate, here's a tip: Go to Red Lobster, sit down and order your drinks. Wait for the rolls and then book out of there. Trust me, your stomach will thank you later. Anyways, the free chips and salsa are great for so many reasons. First off all, they are a tasty treat that is perfect for lining your stomach with the carbs it will need to soak up the grease and beer that will follow. In addition, the nachos are great for scooping up your beans (preferably black) when your meal does come. Plus, you can pour the salsa on top of your meal, adding that little something extra your double-steak chimichanga was missing.

Living in AZ, there are way more Mexican Restaurants to chose from than in the Midwest, and I actually will pick one over the other because of the chips and salsa. Here are some examples: Chevy's makes there own tortillas, hell, most places out here make there own tortillas. They even have cool machines or guys that are on display to prove to you they are fresh. Serrano's not only includes salsa, but also a spicy bean dip. And then there is Chuy's. Chuy's offers a full chip and salsa bar, with 5 different salsas to chose from. So skip the stale rolls and "fancy" churned butter. You know you want something salty and spicy instead.

Where can a man go and enjoy a fruity, yet tart and refreshing alcoholic beverage and not get hit on by guys named Ken? That's right, the Mexican restaurant. Sure, I enjoy beer and whiskey just as much as the next heterosexual male that shaves his chest, but a man should have choices in life, alcohol included. Margaritas are like the nectar of the gods, especially on a 112 degree day when your shoes melt to the pavement before you even make it to the car.

Frozen or on the rocks, with or without salt, I don't give a fuck (actually I prefer frozen with salt, but I love anything slushy). Whoever figured out you could take a liquor as horrible and dirty as tequila and make it into a tasty beverage is a genius. If only "man-code" would allow me to drink these anywhere, but unfortunately when I'm walking around Hohokam Stadium with my $8 little green cocktail (Dos Gringos tent, center field grass area) I get those looks. And I'm not talking about from all the beautiful tail running around in skimpy Cubs bikinis. So thank you Mexican restaurants, for not questioning my sexuality.

Pollo Fundido.
Most of you are probably asking yourself, "Ginger, WTF is a Pollo Fundido?" It's probably because your idea of a Mexican restaurant has a .79, .89, .99 cent value menu. I kid, I kid. Honestly, I had never seen it on a menu when I lived in the Midwest either, so don't feel too bad. But really you should feel bad, because this treat that Taco Hell has yet to discover and turn into rat poison is a fat man's paradise.

Literally translated, Pollo Fundido means Chicken Something (I looked it up and the translator said fundido meant fade to black). Basically it's a burrito filled with shredded chicken and a mix of vegetables, from chiles to peppers to onions, and then deep fried. It's then topped with a cheddar/jack cheese, cream cheese and jalapeno mixture and baked in the oven till the topping is a gooey goodness. Top it off with some sour cream, some salsa and a black olive and you've got the best chimichanga you've ever had, son. Granted, it's not going be on your Jenny Craig's weight watchers menu at 585 calories and 31 grams of fat, but if you're looking for a belly buster at your Mexican restaurant, then order it up. And if they don't have it, just ask, maybe the cooks are from Mexico, or something.

El Pinche Restaurante.
Looking for a quick place for a bite during your lunch break and want some Mexican food but don't have the time and/or money for the whole waiter experience? Skip the Taco Hell and go across the street to that shady Mexican joint that has a whole pig skin, advertisements for phone cards and candles with the Virgin Mary in the window. Be warned, the menu board is probably going to be in Spanish so this is going to take a little bit of effort on your part, but don't worry or be scared, you racist bastard, it will be worth it.

First off, if you don't speak Spanish, just ask. Plus, there is a high probability the menu board will be covered with horrible photos of their food. They have everything that the Taco Hell has. Okay, so maybe they don't serve Volcano tacos, but it's pretty much the same fare, plus they have other great dishes you've probably never heard of. Just be careful to ask about the meat. In addition to the normal chicken, beef and pork selections, you may accidentally order stomach, tongue or even brains, which if you're up for a Andrew Zimmern adventure just might taste good. And here's another hint: these places make awesome breakfast "platos". If you've never had juevos rancheros, you're missing out. Personally I skip most of the greasy food and order myself a carnitas torta with avocado.

Speaking of tortas, here's another little known Mexican food secret that it's amazing Taco Hell hasn't bastardized yet. Basically a torta is a Mexican sandwich. It's served on a 6-8 inch crusty white bread roll called a bolilo, which is usually toasted on the flattop. You might be familiar with it's Cuban cousin, the Cubabo, which is made with roast pork, ham, swiss cheese and dill pickles.

But a torta can be so much more. Basically you pick your meat, which as I mentioned before can include almost any part of the pig, cow or chicken you want. Some of the more popluar versions include al pastor (marinated pork), carne asada (marinate steak), carnitas (fried tender pork), chile relleno (cheese-stuffed pepper), jamon (ham) and huevos (scrambled eggs). Then you pick your toppings which include avocado, sour cream, lettuce, jalapenos , tomatoes and cheese. I hear Wolter orders his with extra cilantro. Slap it on the grill for a minute and you got yourself a torta.

So what makes the torta so special? You know what, I haven't got a fucking clue. It's just great. Maybe it's because I'm used to eating Subway if I want a sandwich. It could be because the grill is perfectly seasoned. But the real reason, and I'm not being racist here, is that Mexicans know how to cook. Whether it's your corner-market taco stand, or the fancy French restaurant downtown, odds are that a Mexican is cooking your food, and if he is, it's more than likely it's going to be damn good.

Go Cubs!