When we first arrived in Paris, Sébastien and I stayed clear of Mexican restaurants. Coming from Santa Fe, I felt there was something infinitely wrong about eating “Mexican” in France. I’d grown up on the real stuff – the thick, hot, decadent sauces that make up traditional Northern New Mexican cuisine. Mexican without fresh Hatch Green Chili, homemade sopapillas (too hot to touch when they arrive at the table) and good old pinto beans was simply inconceivable.
One day, we were roped in. Friends had invited us to join them at “Fajitas” (a Mexican restaurant near the Seine) – and we agreed. Walking down rue Dauphine (I like to imagine I was wearing chaps, cowgirl boots and a lasso flung over my right shoulder), I felt like an outlaw. No, worse. I felt ike a traitor.
“I can’t believe I’m about to eat ‘Mexican’ in Paris.” My fingers danced in the air around the word “Mexican.”
I decided I’d think of it as something else – like soy milk is to milk, carob to chocolate, margarine to butter. No, they aren’t as good and, no, they’re not substitutes (in my book). They’re something else completely – just like so-called Mexican in Paris.
Or so I thought.
Five years later, we’re still eating at Fajitas, as well as at a handful of other Mexican/Latin American restaurants we’ve discovered on our own. I have to admit, they’re not so bad and do a pretty good job at satisfying my cravings for rice and beans. Granted, Parisian Mexican will never be like home (especially in the sauce and spice department), but you can’t have it all (not all at once, at least).
The tried and tested:
15, rue Dauphine (6e)
This is the fanciest Mexican restaurant of the lot we’ve tried- great for a nice night out near Odéon. I love walking through the glass door and being greeted with big, friendly smiles. Maybe it’s because they know us by now, but we are always so well welcomed. I’d recommend reservations, though – one time (despite all the smiles), the restaurant couldn’t accommodate us. The fajitas are lots of fun – the ingredients are served on two plates and you put them together yourself. Since you eat with your hands, you’d think the biggest risk would be dripping. Not for me – I spilled an entire glass of Chilean wine all over my jeans. The waitress kindly brought me another one. I’d also recommend the vegetarian enchilada (with green sauce). The one downside is the margarita – it’s not as good as it used to be (too watery and sweet). There is also a room downstairs for a large, festive party.
Mexi & Co
10, rue Dante (5e)
This spot is more casual, and I love the decor. Colorful Latin American paraphernalia is displayed everywhere (I mean that), especially hanging from the ceiling. The space is small and crowded – a popular place during summer, especially amongst students in the Quartier Latin. The food’s simple and inexpensive, but decent. Best part: you can buy a whole stack of homemade (frozen) corn tortillas to take home with you.
20, rue du père Guerin (13e)
This one’s hidden in the Buttes-aux-Cailles, our old neighborhood. We used to go there to get away from the stress of grad school papers or when I just felt really far from home. We always liked the food (served on searing plates placed inside flat wooden boards), and have found that it’s even better now than when we first started going. It’s quite savory and comes the closest to New Mexican cuisine (in my opinion). I like (of course) their vegetarian enchilada (though it’s on a flour tortilla instead of corn – go figure) and their South American red wines. Definitely one of my favorites on this list.
Rice & Beans
22, rue Greneta (2e)
This hidden spot is our most recent discovery. Located on a small street just off rue Montorgueil, they propose a variety of burritos and tacos. They also serve brunch on weekends. Meat eaters have a lot more choice than vegetarians – even the rice and beans are meat-based. I really appreciated the cook (a joyful young woman) coming out to our table to ask if the veggie tacos we had ordered were for “real vegetarians”. She proposed replacing any non-veggie items with suitable alternatives. That was the first time anyone had ever proposed that in Paris! At first I was thoroughly disappointed not to have my rice and beans, but when I got my plate, I was quite satisfied with the fresh salad the cook had put together. Because of her kind jest and honest concern for my well-being (and the excellent corn tortillas), I’ll definitely go back.
El Sol y La Luna
31, rue St. Jacques (5e)
This is located in the same building as Mexi & Co (same owners), and has a similar atmosphere. I like the warm, cozy feeling and the old wooden benches and shared tables. Last time, we sat at a table downstairs – which took us continents away from Paris! With the live music and vibrant decorations, we felt like we’d landed in Latin America. There was enough variety for everyone and we left feeling quite satisfied – we even refused the ice cream down the street. That means a lot.
Complete change of subject: I’m off to eat deviled eggs and potato salad. Happy 4th of July!