Pigs fly, but not at Mi Mexico3/13/2013
One Hispanic restaurant owner tells about a pet peeve: “Time after time I will meet someone at an event, and they will ask me what I do. I say that I own my own restaurant. They say they never heard of it, and they tell me about their favorite Mexican restaurant, adding ‘It’s so clean.’ Remember how African Americans felt when other people said they liked Barack Obama because he was so articulate? I’d rather have someone insinuate I was mildly articulate than filthy.”
Many folks have told me that Mi Mexico is their favorite Hispanic restaurant. Some added that it’s “really clean and colorful.” Almost all praised its margaritas. It recently made longtime Des Moines Register dining critic Wini Moranville’s list of the top 25 restaurants in central Iowa, ahead of some of my personal favorites, such as Café di Scala, Sbrocco and several Hispanic cafés. Previously, I thought it was indistinguishable from several other large Mexican cafés with gargantuan menus, mild salsas and margarita specials. It was time to revisit.
A peach margarita, ordered “on the rocks,” was served blended, without additional ice and without a salted rim or any garnish. A strawberry margarita also lacked a salted rim or any garnish. One expects those things, even at places that charge considerably less than $6. No choice of tequilas was offered either, as it is at Tacqueria Sonora.
The menu offered things I don’t remember seeing locally: a “chicken Poblano” that was made with fresh apples, chocolate and chilies; and a “chicken mole” in a peanut butter base. A third innovation surprised me. All the carnitas I’d previously eaten around town were made by braising well-marbled cuts of pork, usually shoulders or hams. Some also finished the pork by crisping at high heat. At Mi Mexico, an order of carnitas looked identical to an order of beef fajitas. I asked if there had been a mistake. No, I was told that Mi Mexico’s carnitas are “just like fajitas only with a different seasoning” and served on a plate rather than on an iron platter. Cole slaw, guacamole, beans and rice accompanied extremely lean strips of well-cooked beef, bell peppers and onions.
Chicken fajitas did not sizzle when served. Like other chicken dishes on the menu, they were made with skinless breast meat. Accompanied by bell pepper strips, caramelized onions and tomatoes, they weren’t even very hot. Steak “torero” delivered sirloin cooked well done despite being ordered “medium rare,” with more grilled bell peppers and onion strips. Corn husk tamales were stuffed with shredded pork but needed salsa. Chiles rellenos delivered stem-on pasilas stuffed with real Jack cheese and covered in mild red salsa. On two occasions no one asked if we wanted corn or flour tortillas, and once tortillas were withheld completely until requested.
Bargain priced ($2 – $3.25) desserts resembled one another. An apple chimichanga (stuffed fried flour tortillas) was served with whipped cream, caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Sopapillas (fried flour tortillas) were coated with honey, sugar and cinnamon and were plated with whipped cream and strawberry sauce. Flan was also surprisingly drenched in strawberry sauce with whipped cream.
Side Dishes Carl Blake, the Iowa pig farmer we first wrote about here two years ago, is on a roll. In February he was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” and in a New York Times video. He now has a big-time agent. Six different networks are bidding to host a TV series about his porcine adventures. He’s scheduled for six minutes on “The Colbert Report” on March 27. That show is flying Blake and one of his pigs to New York. “I have to tame him. I hope he doesn’t try to eat Colbert,” Blake explained. CV