Sub-Par Mexican Food
When it's done right, Mexican cuisine is some of the most delicious and satisfying food in the world. A good Mexican restaurant can accommodate a wide range of personal tastes while staying true to the flavors that make Mexican food so unique. Unfortunately, bad Mexican food can be some of the least satisfying, most uninteresting food in the world, and few restaurant experiences are worse than going to a new Mexican place, ordering your favorite dish, and being disappointed by a sub-par preparation. This situation is all too common: to save money, restaurants offer all the most popular dishes made with cheap, canned ingredients but charge the same price as higher quality restaurants. That's why, when you find a good Mexican restaurant, it's a good idea to stick with it!
Unique Mexican Food on the Menu
One of the hallmarks of a really good Mexican place is a varied menu that combines some traditional favorites with more unique restaurant specialties or unexpected twists on old standbys. A good selection of enchiladas is often an indication of an excellent menu; every Mexican restaurant has cheese and meat enchiladas, but some places offer mushroom and spinach enchiladas, enchiladas made with blue corn, or enchiladas smothered in exotic sauces that provide a welcome break from the same old "red sauce." Some restaurants offer less common dishes from various regions of Mexico. Restaurants that offer vegetarian alternatives to pork green chile and refried beans are sure to have their customers in mind. If the restaurant's chefs have invented a few new dishes of their own, so much the better!
Chips and Salsa
Often, when you visit a new Mexican restaurant, you can get a sense for the quality of the food before you have even ordered your entrée. The vast majority of Mexican dining establishments offer free tortilla chips and salsa as an appetizer. This tradition is one of the things that makes eating at Mexican restaurants so fun, but despite the time-tested importance of free chips and salsa, quality still varies widely from place to place. The chips can be thick or thin, made of white, yellow, or blue corn, fresh or pre-packaged. Servers are usually happy to provide information about the chips and salsa to restaurant goers. Some restaurants try to fool patrons into thinking their chips are fresh by placing them under a heat lamp, but it can be hard to tell the difference unless you ask your server.
Look for Homemade Salsa
Although the quality of tortilla chips is important, for most Mexican connoisseurs, it's all about the salsa. Unfortunately, the majority of Mexican restaurants serve pre-made salsa or pico de gallo with their chips. Quality varies, but salsa that is not fresh is never as good as homemade. An excellent restaurant will serve its own fresh salsa with chips, and will often have a variety of salsas to offer. It is a little-known fact that some Mexican restaurants have special salsas that are only available to patrons upon request. These salsas are often the best. Diners can ask their servers if there are any other salsas available.
Homemade Margaritas and Fresh Horchata
When you have found a Mexican restaurant in your area that offers all the things listed again, you may want to consider the drink selection before you make too big an emotional commitment. If a restaurant has wonderful food, homemade salsa, and an extensive menu, it seems likely that their margaritas will also be good. If you are the drinking type, however, you have probably run into restaurants that devote all of their energy to preparing great food, only to serve mass produced margarita mix with terrible tequila. The opposite situation sometimes occurs as well: restaurants with fabulous margaritas serve food that is only average. The same goes for horchata and other traditional Mexican non-alcoholic beverages. So, in your quest for a great Mexican restaurant, order a drink before you make the final decision!