101-103 Swan Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 5550
Good Mexican food in Melbourne, does it exist? It’s hard to say. This is the reason why I avoid most so-called Mexican restaurants like Blair Waldorf avoids rayon. To me, Mexican restaurants are synonymous with overpriced nachos (why buy when any idiot can make it just as good at home?) and one dish being a rehash of another dish (for example (and call me ignorant if you wish), there aren’t any discernible differences between a burrito, a taco and a fajita apart from the form of wrap). So when he-who-thinks-TGI-Friday’s-is-fine-dining Mark selected Mexicali Rose as our dinner venue on our Big Richmond Pub-slash-Bar Crawl night, I couldn’t help but groan. But like Libby drawn to bad CWTV shows, I couldn’t help but say no so on a hot, muggy Saturday night, I found myself stuck in a cramped table with four other guys and a bunch of flies.
Located not far from the Corner Hotel, Mexicali Rose attracts pre-show goers as much as Cancun attracts slutty college girls. At just after 7pm on a Saturday night, nearly every table was full despite a faulty air-conditioning system on the bottom floor. The boys had already ordered a large plate of nachos to share before I rocked up, which was presented at 7:20pm when we all ordered our mains and drinks.
Now, anyone can make a plate of nachos. From Tex-Mex restaurants to pubs to family restaurants, all you need are Dorito chips, some store-bought salsa, mashed avocado, sour cream and cheese. In other words, it’s hard to make it WOW standard but it’s also hard to fail it (The Elephant and Wheelbarrow on Bourke Street did, but that’s another story for another time…). For some reason, however, Mexicali Rose’s “special style” nachos ($21.95) were better than most. I’m not sure whether it was the fresh salsa or the just-ripe avocado tainted with the slightest hint of lemon or the hidden bursts of jalepenos but whatever, they were a good start to our meal.
Things were off to a decent start but unfortunately, it went downhill from here. The guys received their drinks 15 minutes after the last dregs of nachos were consumed which was bad enough, but the jug of fruit tingle margarita that Adam and I ordered ($39.95) was nowhere to be seen. The first time we asked a passing waitress where our drink was, we were told that they were “really busy at the bar” so we thought, ‘okay, we’ll wait.’ At a quarter to eight, twenty five minutes after we had ordered our drinks, we asked another waitress where our drink was and again, we were told that the bar was busy. We would have been somewhat okay with it had it not been for the fact that diners who had ordered their jugs of drinks after we did were getting their drinks before us.
In the meantime, our jug of water remained empty for a good thirty minutes, even after two attempts to ask someone to fill it up.
Finally, FINALLY after 50 minutes (!!!!), we received our fruit tingle margarita. We chose this flavour on the recommendation of a few friends who swear by the refreshing mix of lemonade, blue curacao and raspberry and although it looked like Grimace in a blender, the result was surprisingly fantastic.
As one would expect, the alcohol was heavily diluted by the lemonade which meant that it was pretty much like drinking a slushie. Additionally, the thought of having to pay $39.95 for it made me feel slightly nauseous especially after a 50 minute wait (seriously, who the fck takes this long to blend three ingredients + ice together?!?!). But whatever; at the time, I was just happy to get my drink.
Our mains arrived five minutes later (which meant that they took 55 minutes to arrive). While I understand that they were “busy”, it wasn’t like it was a full house or anything. Plus, it wasn’t like they had a shortage of waiter/esses milling around either. We guessed that the slow service was due to the lack of staff in the kitchen and while that is unfortunate, it would have been nice to have been told about it. Or received some sort of apology or something. But anyway, onto our mains.
All the guys ordered a form of burrito; Adam chose a burrito colorado ($22.95). Served wet with a “ranchero” sauce (pretty much, a tomato salsa-like sauce)” a single soft tortilla rolled around a serving of shredded skirt steak mixed with “new Mexican chile sauce”, whatever THAT was. Rice, sour cream and frijoles (refried beans) then completed the package. I agreed with Adam – the dish was terrible. For starters, the beef was as dry and leathery as Keith Richards’ face and the sauce way too salty. It was almost like they added a motherload of salt into the sauce to mask something dodgy. While Adam, a human rubbish bin, is normally happy to finish off not-overly-good food at restaurants, he left a good chunk of his burrito unfinished.
I ordered a ‘la combinacion’ (beef) meal ($22.95). I’ll be fair and say that my meal, despite its plastic-y redness, looked prettier than Adam’s. Indeed, it tasted slightly better than the burrito colorado if only because of the greens. And the variety. And the cute edible salad bowl. Again though, I had the same stringy beef but this time, in three places: the taco, the enchilada and the taquito. Again, I tasted the same overpoweringly salty sauce and again, I was disappointed.
While Mark and the others were satisfied with their meal, Adam and I were left disappointed. We both wondered whether this was all there is to Mexican food or whether we’ve just had bad luck with Mexican places. I’d like to think the latter – I’ve had decent experiences at Trippy Taco and Mama Sita and there are still a handful of ‘authentic’ Mexican restaurants on my ‘to do’ list. One thing’s for sure, however, you know when Mexicali Rose serves crap Mexican food (0r Tex-Mex, whatever) when Salsa’s, a food court outlet, and Trippy Taco, a VEGAN cafe, serve way better tacos.