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What's With "Wet" Mexican Places?

Thrice in the last two months, Wahine has had a craving for lowbrow, "comfortable" Mexican food. It's hard for me to fully describe the genre, except these kinds of places tend to overdo the decor, greet everyone as "iAmigos", and serve voluminous if somewhat bland, inexpensive food. Oh, and there's usually an after-dinner chocolate mint.

None of the three places (Luisa's, La Palma, and Mama's) seemed to have a slotted spoon--all 6 platters all arrived absolutely *swimming* in water. Nothing skeeves me more than this at ANY restaurant, but it seems to gall me the most with Mexican. Maybe it's that the many crisp things go instantly to mush. But watery rice and beans? Don't you have to try *really* hard to do that?

Anyone else noticed this, or care?

Aloha,
Kaleo

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  1. Kaleo, we do not have that problem in Austin, but it would make me unhappy. Other than salsa and tortilla soup the closest I want my food to get to watery would be melted cheese or mole. Texas supports you on this one!

    1. I read your post, laughed outright, and was immediately reminded of a description from an older of "...the Pacific NW "family mexican restaurant", an unfortunately profligate type of eatery that may be defined by huge plates, slushy technicolor margaritas, nearly liquid refried beans, and absurdly copious amounts of cheese. Examples are legion and include the chains Azteca and Las Margaritas (maybe the most tolerable of this species) as well as more singular variants."

      So I agree that liquid beans are an issue at these unfortunate eateries. Fortunately, with the proliferation of taco trucks and taquerias catering to the Latino community in recent years, there is no need for one to visit them (alcohol service excepted).

      9 Replies
      1. re: equinoise

        Hi, equinoise: "...liquid beans are an issue..."

        Yes, but the weird (and unforgivable) part is that not only were the refritos thin, but they were partially submerged in clear water. 6 of 6 plates were like tidepools.

        Maybe someone's idea of molecular gastronomy?

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          Was there shredded iceberg lettuce involved? That's a potential culprit. I've been to plenty of that style of Mexican restaurant that include the iceberg (sometimes w/ tomatoes) as a sort of garnish/salad/whatever, and un- or under-drained lettuce could definitely result in a wet, puddly plate. No excuse for it, of course, but at least it'd explain the situation?

          1. re: Bax

            Hi, Bax:

            I try to un-remember these experiences, but I do recall the last recent one, at Luisa's. There, there was a strange melange of lettuces and (of all things) cabbage. The only thing not 100% about your theory is that it would require someone to perfectly gimbal the plate to equally distribute the alluvium.

            But your theory makes more sense than mine.

            I think gizmo's theory is also viable, but for the fact that the "slaw" is always seemingly unheated.

            Adios,
            Kaleo

            1. re: Bax

              Or if the meal was assembled on a hot plate, the salad might have cooked and released liquid.

              I haven't this kind of problem at Guaymas type of taquerias. I've been disappointed with the Ixtapa type of restaurants that I've tried in the outer suburbs (such as on the return from a hike in the mountains), though I don't recall a pool of liquid. It's the orange quilt on top of everything that turns me off.

              Overall I've been happiest with tortas from the trucks.

            2. re: kaleokahu

              I hate water on the plate too.

              Here's my theory. I think an increasing number of these places quickly assemble pre-cooked ingredients on a dinner plate and then "nuke" the meal in a microwave ("Creful...very hot plate, Senor!").

              If the plate has a cover in the microwave, and the cover stays on the heated plate for even just a few minutes before the plate heads off to your table, there could be a considerable amount of condensation from the moist ingredients that will cling to the cover and then drip back on top of the food as the cover is taken off.

              While these old school Americanized Mexican restaurants are always as you say, rather "lowbrow," I find that often such places tend to make a better effort out in the suburbs. The last time I ate at Mama's (2005 or so) it was perhaps the absolute worst Mexican food I have ever been served. When I'm in the city, I'll stick to higher brow, like La Carta de Oaxaca in Ballard or Cactus in West Seattle, which really don't cost that much more.

              1. re: Gizmo56

                Hi, Gizmo:

                Very good failure analysis! Even better the reco to stick with places like Oaxaca.

                As bad as Mama's is (and truly it is), IMO the ne plus ultra of bad Mexican in Seattle was Jalisco by Seattle Center. I had a colleague who, when it was his turn to pick a resto for a group lunch, always picked that place. Always felt like I was being punked...

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  The worst Mexican food I had in Seattle (and sadly I had quite a bit of bad Mexican food in Seattle) was from the place that was in Broadway Market, above the QFC (I can't remember the name). Not only was the food awful but it was THE WORST MARGARITA EVER. A relatively expensive terrible margarita at that. Unforgivably bad. I felt bad about hating the place so much, because the people seemed nice enough. But. Terrible. I don't even remember what I ate...I've managed to repress all but the appalling margarita (it was like paying $9 -- or whatever it was -- for a glass of watered down lime Kool-Aid...or not even Kool-Aid but some generic off-brand "fruit" drink... at which someone had waved a bottle of cheap tequila. SO BAD).

                  1. re: Bax

                    :)

                    Bax, that was "La Puerta."

                    Before it was in the Broadway market, La Puerta was in a little space, and if memory serves it was east of Broadway on Union. I used to eat there occasionally in the 1980's when a friend of mine, who is a fine artist, leased studio space on Capitol Hill. It was walking distance from his studio so it was a convenient spot to meet for lunch.

                    The original La Puerta was certainly mediocre, but also inexpensive and a perfectly acceptable example of the time-tested genre Kaleo describes. When they went "upscale" in that Broadway Market space, everything went terribly wrong. Prices went way up, quality went way down, and there was no comfort to be found any longer in their comfort food. They *appeared* to thrive for a time, But it was not surprising when the disaster played out to its inevitable end, and the restaurant failed.

                    It is a sad history that has probably happened to many decent small businesses in Seattle neighborhoods that transition from sleepy to trendy. It is not easy for small business people to ride that tiger.

                  2. re: kaleokahu

                    Oh yes, I remember the dreadful Jalisco all too well. Seattle has been a hotbed for terrible Mexican for decades, it is good we are seeing a few more authentic options over the past 15 years or so.

                    Aloha-

            3. Unfortunately what I'm getting out of this post is that your criticizing a genre of restaurant (focus on faux-mexican decor/ambience) for lacking focus on the the food.

              Also I sort of shuddered at the thought of eating at Mama's sober or La palma at all ;)

              Don't get me wrong--I appreciate the big plate of "mexican" rice and lardy beans covered in yellow cheese's appeal. I am just frightened of the places that serve it around here.

              1. My bride and I went to Willamette in the 70s. There was a new place called Los Baez. We went back a few years ago, and it had a lot of the characteristics Kaleo described. I still like the vibe, but food has come a long way since then, and they had not kept up. IMHO the only excuse for a small restaurant not knocking out consistently great food is that they were sincerely experimenting and sometimes it does not work.