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.