Tuesday 31 August 2010

Mexican(?) Food in England

If there is one common denominator among most American ex-pats in the UK, it's that so many of us miss Mexican food.  From Taco Bell to our local favourites, we miss it all.   There is continual whining on ex-pat websites that you cannot get comparable Mexican food in any part of the UK, and unfortunately, my experience has been no different.

First there was Hardy's Tex-Mex in a small village in Surrey called Bagshot .  An affordable, non-pretentious restaurant with statues wearing sombreros sitting on the roof - I had high hopes.  I thought I'd struck gold when chips and salsa were offered to me upon seating.  On the menu: nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, chimichangas  and even enchiladas!!    I had some nachos and a Corona and was satisfied, but it wasn't anywhere near what I am used to ( think The Armadillo... drooool).

I was sure it had to get better than that and was introduced to Mestizo in West London - a pretentious restaurant and tequila bar in London with a salsa club downstairs.  When the waitress offered to help with the extensive menu (which included chile rellenos!) in her thick Mexican-ish accent, I was sure it had to be good.  Sadly, my rellenos were nothing like what I expected.  I do not have the culinary expertise to explain the "problem", but  flavours and even how it was plated were just all wrong.   I want a chile relleno (crispy, please) covered in cheese with some green chile poured over it next to a helping of refried beans and mexican rice.  Is this too much to ask?

I then started hearing rumblings about a place in Covent Garden called Wahaca. They call their cuisine Mexican Market Eating.  Their menu was a bit confusing and actually did require some explanation from our waiter (no Mexican accent here).  Basically, I was urged to order 3 or 4 small dishes (little quesadillas, taquitos, mini tostadas, etc) and I immediately knew it wasn't going to be the Armadillo combo plate I craved. It was good, but not what I think of when I think of Mexican food.

Just last week, I heard of a brand new place near Charing Cross called Lupita.  Their website claims they are the "first truly authentic Mexican restaurant in London".  Hallelujah!!  I sat down at a table with four different salsas and thought "bring on the smothered burritos and cheese enchiladas!"    But, yes, you know where this is going: no platters, no green chile, no joy for me.

Lupita was very much like Wahaca which also claims to be traditional Mexican, and leads me to wonder if what I think is "authentic" Mexican food is not Mexican at all.  I have been to Mexico (only Cancun, which I realize hardly counts) but it seems like I actually had to come to England to learn what Mexican food actually is and that what I really want is Americanized Mexican food.  No wonder you can't get that in England.

Lesson learned.


  1. I don't think anybody knows what real Mexican food is. Not even the mexicans! Oh my do you remember the marinara sauce on the enchiladas in Mexico? Seriously, it's a mystery, but I will stick with the cinco at La Fogata please!

  2. Chipotle near Charing Cross is surprisingly good (I'm not a Mexican food expert but I am from L.A...)

  3. This reminds me that I need to buy like 40 packets of Lawrys taco seasoning packets next month when we're back home. The reason the taco seasoning here sucks so bad is that it has curry in it. I only wish there was a packet-form of La Victoria enchilada sauce- nothing I've done has been able to replicate this. I realise of course that the Mexican I crave is so Taco Bell...but I digress. I will also be hitting up the Eribertos down the street from my parents' house next month, where no one speaks English....