Eating out Mexican is one of the few true values in New York’s getting-even-more-ridiculous dining scene. Every borough has cheap, genuine, hole-in-the-wall spots like Tulcingo Del Valle in the neighborhood I grew up in.
That’s why I’m supremely disturbed by the emergence of quasi-upscale Mexican restaurants. I’m not saying Mexican people aren’t allowed to be fancy, but um…I still want the cheap, giant portions, of flavorful food. I mean, that’s half the point, right? No one has ever decided on Mexican dinner because they’re not especially hungry. And this fancified Mexcian food scene has brought a truly unwelcome development: chips and salsa that must be paid for. In money. #$!%@!
This will not stand.
Everyone in my new hood, Fort Greene, talks about two Mexican joints: Pequena and Bonita. I’ve eaten at both of these now and they serve decent, if not exciting food that falls short in three crucial aspects:
- Small portions
- Lack of spice
- Served by white people
Basically, everything a Mexican restaurant should not be. Seriously, is this Brooklyn or Kansas? What’s going on here?
But here’s the kicker: both places CHARGE for chips and salsa. This is just untenable. Free chips and salsa is like a golden rule of eating out. It’s half the reason I usually choose Mexican. It is just expected, OK? If I walk into a Mexican restaurant, and don’t get that basket and bowl placed in front of me without laying down an extra $4.50, well, I think you get the point – I won’t be happy. Frank Bruni says an empty wine glass is his version of restaurant hell, well no free chips and salsa is mine.
So I recently ate at a well-reviewed Mexican place in SoHo called Cafe el Portal. This place was pretty cool – teeny underground restaurant, genuine menu, Mexican-owned and operated. Although a little overpriced, it had some crazy dishes I could get behind, like a chile relleno covered in pomegranate seeds. While this inventive menu distracted me for two to three minutes after sitting down, I soon noticed something off. There was just a certain lack of greasiness on my hands and spiciness in my mouth.
No chips and salsa! I looked down and there they were again, ON THE MENU. FOR MONEY.
We cannot tolerate this, eaters! It may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but the next thing you know, they’ll be charging for bread and butter at Italian restaurants, there will be no more comps of wasabi and ginger with your sushi, and ketchup packets at McD’s will go for a quarter a pop. Oh, and just so you know, calling it “pico de gallo” instead of “salsa” does not make it charge-worthy.
Rise up now, people. Chips and salsa deserve to be free!
Pequena: 86 S. Portland Ave., Brooklyn, NY 718.643.0000, www.pequenarestaurant.com
Bonita: 243 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY , 718.622.5300, www.bonitanyc.com
Cafe el Portal: 174 Elizabeth St., New York, NY, 10012, 212.226.4642