On the Plate: The Mexican Standoff

So last week was dry, in between migraines, magical trips* and work based weariness, my few hours set aside for writing were scuppered by mac maintenance. And it’s not like I don’t have anything to say, I have see, done and reflected on matters worthy of note. A least for on here anyway.

In some ways this next review could be considered a magnum opus of food critique as I detail experiences of not one but three Mexican restaurants. I’m at risk of overselling this if I waffle on any longer so here it is:

El Capo
Where: Northern Quarter, naturally
Price: ££
Tastiness Factor: 4 pints of drool
Return Custom: Most certainly

The Beagle
Where: Chorlton
Price: It was an expensive lunch but had it been dinner it would have been OK
Tastiness Factor: Heightened by severe hunger
Return Custom: Already been back

Taco Bell
Where: Arndale food court, wherever you can fight to get a seat
Price: Cheap
Tastiness Factor: Haha
Return Custom: Unlikely

I think that it’s best not to delude ourselves before we go into this, most experiences of Mexican food we will have in this country are imitations of the USA’s interpretation of the cuisine. Despite Danny Trejo’s endorsement, Old El Paso fajita kits aren’t a tradition of the Mexican diet, in fact they come under the branch of Tex-Mex. The fusion of northern and southern continental American flavours. But I’m keeping the title. Love a little drama.

I love burritos. They are a whole meal, with each tasty food group, wrapped up in a soft carby blanket. It’s satisfying and comforting while making you feel vaguely metropolitan and exciting the buds with a variety of textures and complementary flavours. To say that at Taco Bell ‘I had the worst burrito I have ever eaten’ isn’t too strong a statement as it was still a burrito. Kind of like the saying ‘bad pizza is still pizza’ and therefore good compared to other foods – although slight tangent, I have been served some inedible takeaway pizza before – a bad burrito is still kind of nice. There was soft meat, rice, cheese etc. But none of it was that good. The tortilla was cardboard-y, the cheese was that pre-grated powdery stuff that didn’t really melt, the salad was sad and the only saving grace was the juicy chicken that there just wasn’t enough of. I ordered a Big Bell Box, so even though the burrito wasn’t all that satisfying I had some fairly decent fries (coated in what was probably a bit of paprika, salt, pepper and maybe a dash of cayenne), a very miserable taco, a drink and some churros. The churros were surprisingly decent. It turns out making sweet deep fried dough tasty isn’t too hard.

Churros are perhaps the most obvious Northern Americanisation of Mexican food, elongated crispy donuts; they actually have origins in Portugal. But I have now come to expect them on a Tex-Mex menu and although I’m not a dessert person I get moist in the mouth at the thought of them. I’m at risk of becoming a little graphic now but I have no other way to describe the churros at The Beagle in a way other than orgasmic. I don’t want you to read that in the way someone might groan over a chocolate fondant pudding on MasterChef because this was much more than that. As the French say ‘la petite mort’, I did in fact die momentarily that day at The Beagle. As a sweet crispy cinnamon fried shell gave way to soft warm fluffy insides upon my tongue it was, only what this humble atheist may hope, a glimpse of what heaven feels like.

The Beagle

The Beagle has many other delicious offerings. Working backwards: ice cream from Affleck’s palace establishment Ginger’s Comfort Emporium is available but there was no Chorlton Crack when I was there, mains are various burger/taco/burrito options with tasty sides, and starters come in the wing and nacho variety. Fairly similar to the El Capo Offerings. To set the scene, my tall friend and I arrived at The Beagle, weary after a 2 mile walk to Chorlton in promise of the 20 inch pizzas and poutine by Brewski only to be fork-blocked by a kitchen without power. It’s fair to say that we were hungry. Which may be why we ordered wings, tacos, a burrito, loaded fries and then dessert. Excessive but does put me in a good position to review a range of the food. The tacos were a bit mealy, dry and over siriracha-ated. The wings were big and tender but the seasoning wasn’t to my taste, there was a herb in the mix – maybe thyme – that didn’t quite work for me. The fries loaded with Bovril and beef brisket had the thumbs up from my meat-eating friend as did his juicy and well stuffed burrito. In whole pretty enjoyable but I would be going back for the churros and good selection of on tap beer rather than the main menu.

El Capo is a beast. The restaurant is below the bar in a basement. Typically Northern Quarter with exposed red brick and solid wood tables but don’t let me misinform you, this isn’t a Mexican Home Sweet Home, El Capo serves great big dirty portions and hundreds of different tequilas under red lights. This is the place to commit your dietary sins, I recommended starting off with the Almojabanas which are gooey fried balls of cheese seasoned with chilli. The nachos are a good call too, real cheese not the goopy orange sauce, and pleasingly well-dispersed fresh, plentiful toppings. A couple of cocktails and crisp beers are good accompaniments to the fattening delights. Even if, like I did, you go for the chicken breast and avocado salad you still get the option of a side and like the weak person I am, at the mercy of cheesy goodness, I had some mac and cheese. My tall friend, on the other side of table, not having much of an appetite ordered the Big Ass Chilli Burger. Of the few times I stop to take pictures of tasty food, this was one. He ate most of it with the exception of the bun and the fries that I helped him with.

At the end of the meal we were both so full that we needed to be shovelled into a cab hugging leftovers. I didn’t even think about the possibility of churros until I got home. I loved everything I consumed and after a totally healthy Instagram browse I think that, after being underwhelmed many a time, I am ready to trust in tacos again. I can’t wait to go back, the only things stopping me are the fluctuating ability to comfortably button my jeans and having an available night.

So there you have it, the good, the great and the meh. Not in that order but I was trying to do a bit of a thing. Thank you for reading On The Plate. I hope that you feel informed and entertained. See you next time!


Gossip Girl


*Re-visited the Harry Potter Studios



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