MEXICAN cuisine can be hit or miss. In Australia it is usually the latter. Back in my university student days Mexican restaurants were popular because they were cheap, filled you up, served margaritas and tequila shots and tolerated you. The food was almost always bland, stogy, topped with cheese or sour cream and came with processed refried beans whether you wanted processed refried beans or not.
Despite the drunken and non-eventful culinary experiences that I remember (or don’t remember) about Mexican cuisine, I was always fascinated by it probably because I thought it could always be better. Mexico is a country with Spanish influences and rustic charm. It grows a huge variety of chilies and wonderful herbs like coriander and oregano, limes, exotic fruits and vegetables, farmed chickens, pigs, and beef, and had plentiful seafood in both its oceans. It was a cuisine that had all the ingredients to be great. This fascination led me to seek and find some of the world’s great chilli sauces (most coming from Mexico). It was also responsible for me taking home Mark Miller’s excellent book Coyote Cafe (named after his first south-western restaurant in Santa Fe, New Mexico), when I went holidaying in the USA back in 1991. This highly-prized book sits in my bookshelf in perfect condition (alas, not stained by food) – a memory to desperate attempts to try to find the obscure ingredients needed to cook typical Coyote Cafe dishes.
Guzman y Gomez first came to my attention while watching Maeve O’Meara’s Mexican episode on SBS’s Food Safari. Maeve was in a Guzman y Gomez kitchen talking taco, burrito and nachos. What was being wrapped up or filled looked good (fresh, grilled, flavorsome, and healthy) and Maeve was raving. So, after driving past Guzman y Gomez in Sydney’s Newtown I decided to stop, go in and taste what they offered from this modern franchise.
The Newtown ‘taqueria” is at 175 King Street, Newtwon. It is clean and modern with a long wooden communal table in the centre and benches and stools along the walls and the menu offers seven types of burritos, seven types of soft tacos and quesadillas (note: using the same seven standard fillings), and snacks (corn chips with either guacamole or salsa and nachos). To drink there is a couple of Mexican beers, tequila shots, margarita or non alcoholic drinks. The seven fillings for your burrito, taco or quesadilla are: chicken guerrero (marinated grilled chicken with pico de gallo salsa); spicy chicken guerrero (marinated grilled chicken with pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa); D.F. steak and onion (grilled steak and onions with a chipotle marinade with pico de gallo and tomatillo salsa); beef guerrero (slow roasted marinated beef with pico de gallo salsa); pork chipotle (marinated slow roasted pork with pico de gallo salsa); barramundi (marinated grilled fish with pico de gallo salsa); or veggie (grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms with guacamole and pico de gallo salsa).
I decided to have the spicy chicken guerrero burrito ($9.90). Service is quick and out came a plump soft corn burrito filled with pieces of grilled chicken with layers of rice and black beans and salsa all wrapped in aluminum foil. On the dining bench were two excellent Byron Bay Chilli Co. hot sauces (the habanero and mango and the jalapeño and coriander). Eating was a challenge – the burrito was almost bursting and it took a bit of handling to make sure it didn’t explode over me. It was one of the better burritos I’ve had – the grilled chicken was flavorsome but the rest of the filling was bland – the combination of black beans and rice there to probably fill it out than to add any flavor. Spicy? Lashings of the excellent jalapeño and coriander hot sauce helped but on its own the burrito was mild. Good to see a range of Mexican beers in the fridge.
The verdict: I am still searching for Mexican culinary nirvana in Australia but Guzman y Gomez is giving it a go and is an alternative to kebabs, pizza and other takeaway fast foods. Although not offering a culinary experience the taqueria does offer a better experience than those old memories in dimly lit and stale tequila smelling haunts of years gone by. It is fast Mexican food that has grown up but not yet matured.
Ate there: Sunday, 14 March 2010.