UPDATE (OCTOBER 2017): Alas, Café Mexicho has closed down. It had a good run though. Fortunately there are several good alternatives around town — read here.
Nearly two years ago, soon after I moved to South Africa, I ate at a restaurant in Melville called Café Mexicho. I wasn’t impressed, and I actually got sick the next day. I named the ailment “Mexicho’s Revenge”.
I wrote a blog post about the experience, called Where Not to Eat in Melville.
Café Mexicho, August 2010. From back in the day when I didn’t care what my photos looked like.
My blog wasn’t widely read back then, and my unfavorable review of Café Mexicho went unnoticed. But I’ve gained a lot of readership over the last two years, which means my posts are more likely to show up in Google searches. If you live in South Africa and google Café Mexicho, my post about it will probably pop up in the first few results.
Recently, I’ve received a couple of comments from people who read my Mexicho post and got angry about it. Here’s an example:
I am from Texas, grew up on Tex-Mex food and LOVE Cafe Mexicho. The margaritas are great, on-the-rocks, not frozen, and although you pay more than in Texas I think it is worth the cost to have a taste of ‘home’. Maybe my stomach is used to the spice but I have eaten there a dozen times and have never been sick and neither have any of the friends I take there. I hope all your negative blogging doesn’t hurt their business because this is the closest to real mexican food I have found in Jhb.
Someone from Texas who LOVES Café Mexicho? Wow. Perhaps it was unfair of me to pass judgement after only one meal. (I’m amused by the suggestion that my old blog post might be poisoning the community against Café Mexicho. Not sure 2Summers is that powerful, but it’s cool that someone thinks so.)
I decided to give Mexicho another chance, and to take my review seriously. I went there twice during the last two weeks, with several friends, and sampled a variety of dishes. Herewith is my new assessment.
Café Mexicho on a quiet Tuesday evening.
The first thing I’ll say is that Mexicho has a pleasant, quirky ambiance, perfect for Melville. I love the saloon-style doors and beaded chili pepper lights. The candlelight is nice. The elongated shape of the restaurant makes the seating a bit tricky — the tall wooden tables along the side are difficult to squeeze into when the restaurant is full. But there is space in the back for large parties, as well as an outdoor area that is great for summer.
Mexicho is a popular drinking hole for university students. It can get loud but the atmosphere is cheerful, at least on weeknights.
I give the atmosphere 3.5 out of 5 chili peppers.
Next up: Drinks. If you like Mexican beer, you can get it at Mexicho. Only Corona though — no Tecate, Sol, or Dos Equis. This is to be expected, as Melville is a long way from Mexico. At the urging of my Texan commenter, I also sampled a margarita on the rocks. (Okay, I had two.) I concur with the Texan — Mexicho’s on-the-rocks ‘ritas are good. Just the right level of tartness. I wish I’d received a lime with it though.
I’m not a tequila-drinker, except in margaritas. But I observed many other Mexicho patrons enjoying shots of tequila and I assume there are several brands available.
I’ll score the drinks with 4 chilis.
Now, the important part: Food. During my two recent meals, I sampled both starters (“appetizers” to the Americans) and mains (“entrees” to the Americans). Everything I tried was tasty, and I’m pleased to report that none of it made me sick. I particularly enjoyed the beef nachos and the huge stuffed jalapenos. The chicken enchiladas were also pleasing, especially when enhanced by a selection of hot sauces (available upon request).
Cheese-stuffed jalapeno with sour cream sauce.
Beef nachos. Not the same as nachos back home but yummy nonetheless.
Chicken enchiladas. I was so hungry that I forgot to turn the plate around so you can’t really see the actual enchiladas. Sorry.
This is a sincronizada, described on the Mexicho menu as “two wheat tortillas with a filling in between of cheese, chicken, bacon, ham, T&O and corn served with guacamole and sour cream”. I had never heard of this before, but I googled it and it is a legitimate Mexican dish. I actually didn’t try it, but my friend said it was good.
My only real complaint about the food, which I also lodged in my August 2010 post, is that you have to pay for chips and salsa. Chips and salsa are always free at Mexican restaurants in the U.S., and while I can’t have a Mexican meal without them, I really hate paying. Not only do you have to pay for chips and salsa, but you have to pay for them separately. The chips are R20 (up from R12 in 2010), and the salsa — which comes in a microscopic ramekin, enough for about four chips — is R10 (up from R7 in 2010). This is just wrong. However, both the chips and salsa taste very good. Mexicho has the only decent tortilla chips I’ve found in South Africa.
Also, there is a difference between “sour cream” and “sour cream sauce”. The stuff Mexicho serves is sour cream sauce. Not the end of the world but I prefer the real thing.
I rate the food 3.5 chilis, giving Mexicho an overall score of 3.66 chilis. I have no idea what this means, as this is the first time I’ve used such a rating system. I guess I need to start rating more restaurants to provide a frame of reference.
Knock-off Frida Kahlo painting at the back of Mexicho. I think it works.
My final pronouncement: Café Mexicho is a decent restaurant. I won’t wait another two years before going back. Having been away from America for some time, I now appreciate how fortunate I am to have a Mexican restaurant — any Mexican restaurant — in my neighborhood. I just can’t expect Mexicho to be the same as my favorite Mexican places in Washington D.C. And I have to get used to paying for chips and salsa.
Café Mexicho is at 78A 4th Avenue, Melville.