Let’s face it, Europe is not known for its fine Mexican restaurants. But what’s a guy, who grew up in southern California where great Mexican food can be found on each street corner to do when that craving kicks in. The answer may surprise you; head to Poreč, Croatia and the brand new El Mexicano.
So I don’t think I’m completely atypical when I say that after a few weeks of traveling around Europe…I get tired of pasta, pizza and döners. They’re great and all but too much of a good thing is well, too much. This is when, my eyes start to wander about the streets for something different, something that stands out, something that in many respects has no place being in Europe. And then, like a mirage in a pasta & pizza filled desert, the European, Mexican [Mexipean] food restaurant appears.
After finding myself in this situation several times I can say, with an embarrassed smile, that I’ve tasted my share of Mexican food in Europe. For this reason, I can also say that each time, my expectations are lower and lower. There’s never free chips and salsa. The hot sauce is typically about the same consistency and temperature of ketchup, and good luck explaining that you want your burrito wet. But yet, I sit down time and time again.
My last night in Croatia was no different. The streets were damp, German tourists had not yet arrived to fill the quite city and I was tired of pizza. Then, in the distance I saw the Mexican flag blowing gently in the wind. Could it be? In this relatively small port town in Croatia?
With expectations low, but my disdain at the thought of more Pasta high I went on in to El Mexicano. Immediately I was surprised by the décor. For a change I actually felt as if I was at a Mexican restaurant. Mexican tapestries hung from the wall (and ceiling), corona flags acted as trim for a wall where a sign reads, “Tequila boom boom” and antiques that give a sort of rustic charm were thoughtfully strewn about. After a chat with the owner Zeff Llesi, I found out that everything in the place was actually ordered from a warehouse in Italy. But you wouldn’t know it. The theme was right. Now, what about the food.
Quickly greeted by the owner I was sat down at one of the brightly colored tables and presented a menu. During my visit the menus were not in English, but this is rather normal for Poreč where tourism comes overwhelmingly from Germany and Italy. Besides, anyone who needs an English menu to order Mexican food shou ld just stay home. Finding a very nice array of options I settled on chips and salsa (not free but only 15 Kuna or about $2.50 in April 2009) and the enchilada rojas plate (about 10 USD). As Zeff later explained, the enchiladas seem to be a local favorite and over the next few months an even larger menu will include more of these tasty treats.
First and quickly, the chips and salsa arrived…and there were three dips!! The chips were nice, not homemade, but crisp and fresh out of a bag. The dips…well, this is where I knew I found something special. While one was the obligatory Mexipean ketchup variety the chunky tomato salsa was really very good. And the “sour cream” type dip; it was better than sour cream.
Just in time the enchiladas arrived. It looked like an enchilada; it smelled like an enchilada but would it taste like an enchilada? The fact that Zeff had presented a plate that already hit two marks, look and smell, which most Mexipean eateries miss, caused my excitement to grow. 15 minutes later I had cleared my plate of delicious meat wrapped in a sauce soaked and perfectly baked tortillas with a side of rice. The meal I had just had was hands down the best Mexican Food I had ever had in Europe.
Waiving Zeff over I just had to tell him and the chef how great the food was. The friendly owner quickly began telling me all about the restaurant. He told me how in the summer a nice terrace of tables and chairs will line the plaza out front, and how all of the food comes fresh from a nearby distributor and that I should really try his homemade Rakija [ra-khy-ya].
Never one to turn down something homemade and with a kick I was treated to an outstanding shot (ok, I had two) of this typical, clear, brandy/whiskey type drink distilled using various fruits. The taste is a bit like tequila but quite smooth and all in all it followed the Mexican food perfectly. Knowing this little drink is a must for everyone, I’ve spoken with Zeff again and he has graciously agreed to give one free shot of his Rakija to anyone who mentions this article through July 2009.
So, next time you’re wandering the streets of Poreč Croatia, tired of the very good but overdone offerings of pizza and pasta, stop on in. I’m glad I did. My faith in Mexipean food has been rekindled and from that meal forward, all future visits to those restaurants who dare to offer the exotic will be compared to Zeff’s fabulous El Mexicano.
You can find El Mexicano at Trg F.Supila 4, right behind Hotel Neptune.