Picasso’s Mexican Taqueria, which I’ve decided is South Africa’s best Tex-Mex restaurant, is not in Joburg or Cape Town. It’s in a small tourist town in Mpumalanga province called White River, not far from the Kruger Park.
My anointment of Picasso’s as South Africa’s best Tex-Mex restaurant (I’m officially calling it Tex-Mex because the food is more like the Mexican fare you get in the United States, rather than Mexico) is not meant to disparage all the other South African Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurants I’ve written about over the years (see here and here).
But Picasso’s, more than any other Tex-Mex restaurant I’ve been to in this country, has the full package — great atmosphere, great variety, great service, and (perhaps most importantly) great tortilla chips. Of all the Mexican-inspired restaurants I’ve been to in South Africa, Picasso’s feels the most like my favorite Tex-Mex restaurants in America.
Picasso’s is owned by South Africans, inspired by a restaurant in Greece, and named for a famous Spaniard. I was really confused by all this at first but here’s some of the story:
A South African couple named John and Lyn went to a Mexican restaurant called Picasso on the Beach while in Naxos, Greece, where they have a holiday home. John and Lyn liked the restaurant and its owners, Stratos and Debbie, so much that they hatched a plan to open their own Picasso-inspired restaurant back in White River. The South African Picasso’s opened in September 2014.
I don’t know why these two Mexican restaurants are named after the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. The food is amazing though so who cares.
Dinner at Picasso’s Mexican Taqueria
I went to Picasso’s with Julia, an American friend who just moved to Nelspruit — a large-ish town about 20 minutes from White River. Julia, like me and every other American in South Africa, is always on the lookout for decent Tex-Mex restaurants. She discovered Picasso’s while searching for interesting things for us to do during my visit.
We started with margaritas. I had a traditional lime on the rocks and Julia had a frozen strawberry. I sucked mine down in less than ten minutes because it was so delicious.
For a starter (appetizer) we had an order of tortilla chips served with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. The menu doesn’t offer chips with stand-alone salsa, as Tex-Mex restaurants in America do, but I wasn’t arguing. Many Tex-Mex restaurants in South Africa don’t offer chips and salsa at all, which drives me insane.
The chips were perfect: hot, salty, and triangular, as I believe all good tortilla chips should be. (Round chips aren’t the same.) The salsa was chunky and spicy. The guacamole and sour cream were also good — decent sour cream is hard to come by in this country.
Julia ordered a pulled pork chimichanga with sides of rice and refried beans. I ordered a selection of tacos. The menu offers a large variety of tacos, which can be ordered in sets of three or individually. I chose three different tacos: one chicken, one fish, and one “deep fried avo”.
I know what you’re thinking: A deep fried avocado taco sounds like blasphemy, whether it be in South Africa or Texas or Mexico or anywhere. But I am here to tell you that every Mexican restaurant in the world should be serving this: a hunk of avocado, crumbed and flash fried, served in a tortilla with coleslaw, red onion, and cilantro (coriander).
The deep fried avo taco was the second-best thing I ate at Picasso’s after Julia’s refried beans, which were literally the best refried beans I’ve ever eaten. The fish taco was also spectacular. The chicken taco was the weakest of the three, as I felt it had too much chicken and not enough sauce, but still pretty good.
I had a bite of Julia’s chimichanga, which is basically a deep-fried burrito — a true Tex-Mex specialty. I was impressed by how light and flaky the fried coating was and how well-seasoned the meat was.
I give Picasso’s Mexican Taqueria 4.5 stars out of 5.
If you live in Gauteng, I have great news: You don’t have to drive all the way to White River to experience my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in South Africa. I was at the Linden Market this past Saturday and discovered a Picasso’s Mexican Food Truck, right here in Joburg. The truck apparently makes frequent appearances at markets and other events in the area.
Picasso’s Mexican Taqueria is in the Bagdad Shopping Centre on Hayzview Road in White River. Call 082-648-1019.