I just have to say up front that I love Mexican food, I really love it and I’m not sure why. I know that average Mexican food is the same ingredients reconstructed in different shapes. When I eat it, I’m instantly happy and somehow reminded of countless nights slogging down margaritas and shooting tequila in my 20s.
Memories aside, I’ve never understood why Mexican food hits my spot. Perhaps I’m a reincarnated South American. On the day I was born a magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit Guatemala City, killing 23,000 people. Now I’m a healthy sceptic when it comes to past lives but it might explain why a plate of beans makes me so happy and why I’m so drawn to Salma Hayek. Although there could be other, more aesthetic, reasons for the latter.
To date the best Mexican food I’ve had was in the States. When traveling on business I always went the distance to find highly recommended Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. It’s clear from these experiences that there is no relation between the quality of a Mexican restaurant’s decor and its food. Some of the best Mexican I’ve had was consumed in surroundings that could only be described as dirty and often dangerous.
Chinese restaurants are another example where the more peeling wallpaper, the better the food. Funnily enough, I’ve found some types of restaurants swing the other way. With Japanese restaurants the rule seems to be the flasher the better.
Anyway, when I heard tell of a small but brilliant Mexican Restaurant in deepest Ellerslie my ears pricked up. Apparently this was a genuinely quirky spot, only open for lunch Thursday to Saturday, and only when they didn’t have something else to do.
I had forgotten about it till Mexican Specialities appeared in the Metro 50 Best Restaurants. So my interest rekindled I headed down there for a work lunch on Friday.
Mexican Specialities is located in a block of old suburban shops off Marua road, in what I imagine would once have been a dairy. The outside is definitely ‘rustic’, you might say, with small rickety-looking tables spilling out onto the pavement. The inside is classic Mexican, with odd trinkets lining the walls and tables squashed in where possible. It certainly fulfills my expectations of Mexican ambiance.
The owners, Jose Carlos de la Macorra and Maria Batiz were both born in Mexico City. They came to New Zealand in 2000 and started Mexican Specialities in the Parnell Sunday market. In 2004, they opened the current premises as a space dedicated to all things Mexican.
Their menu is a refreshing step away from the classic burrito and fajita mix. I was delighted not to recognise many of the dishes on it. Maria apologised for the screaming kids and I apologised for my pronunciation of her menu. Of course, being a father of two frequently screaming kids I hadn’t even noticed the background noise.
Cutting to the chase, the food was exquisite. Presentation was down to earth: we started with a bag of Mexican chips banged down onto the table accompanied by a plate of chunky, fresh guacamole. My main was reminiscent of a chicken Quesadilla but covered with a delicious, creamy tomato sauce topped with bacon, sour cream and fresh herbs. My companions ordered the Mole, an intense dish covered with a hot, chilli chocolate sauce with a strong, deep flavour. We also had the best hot chocolate I’ve had in ages, in a plastic cup of course, and ended with something that was halfway between a brownie and a chocolate cake but with an awesome fudgy texture. Apologies for the vagueness here: I can’t remember any of the correct names for what we ate and needless to say, their menu isn’t online for me to check.
The place was so packed we ended up huddled around a table outside in the cold which was soon covered in paper cups and plastic chip wrappers. For some reason this only added to the experience.
If you are interested in genuine Mexican cuisine Mexican Specialities is a must visit. The food is interesting and the setting has that unique Mexican style to it. I give this a 9/10 for conforming to my Mexican fantasy ideal. The only thing missing was a glass of piss-warm Chango.
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