There is a direct correlation between a Southern town’s size and the number of cheap Mexican restaurants within its city limits. I know this could probably be said about all restaurants or, for that matter, other service industry establishments. But Mexican restaurants are different. In the case of, say, a French restaurant, you want a very nice establishment with a well-trained chef and white tablecloths and a full wine list. This establishment can almost exclusively be enjoyed in a larger town.
For someone who grew up in a small town, however, the quality of a Mexican restaurant has little to do with the food. A cheap Mexican place invariably has cheap vinyl booths in a odd color. The chips are too salty, and the salsa a little watery. But it’s the place you eat with your friends, and you stay for hours. You love the food, no matter how much grease is pooling in the middle of the enchilada’s cheese or how many rumors you’ve heard of rats in the kitchen. For small town Southerners, Mexican restaurants are judged by their character, not their quality.
In the town where I grew up, there were two such places. At college, a place almost entirely populated by people related to tiny University, there was one glorious place. My favorite memories with my friends in high school and college were spent at these places whose names even fit their stereotype: Los Mex and Mi Casa. Hours stuck in those cracked vinyl booths. Hours spent crying and laughing with my friends over gallons of queso, too many overly sweetened margaritas, karaoke, waiters that knew us far too well, and truly enjoyable, bad food.
Here, in New Orleans, there are more Mexican joints than I care to keep track of. There’s one that specializes in burritos. Burritos. But none of them have filled my cheap Mexican food cravings. And in New York, well, I try not to think about the fancy Mexican food I’ll have to switch to. To avoid crying into my margarita once I’m in the foreignland, I’m just trying to prepare myself for a finer level of South of the Border dining. With the help of homemade, fancier-than-I-am-used-to Mexican food, I’ve been trying to ease myself into a slow transition to make the experience less painful.
Adapted from a recipe by Patricio Sandoval
3 Hass avocados, cut into ½-inch dice
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
½ small onion, diced
2 ripe mangos, finely diced
1 Asian pear, finally diced3 tbs finely chopped cilantro
1 medium chipotle in adoba, minced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 tbs lemon juice
In a large bowl, use a fork to gently stir together all the ingredients except for the salt. Once the ingredients are combined, season with salt to taste and serve.