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July 19, 2009

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Saddle up for quick fix

FOR lovers of traditional Mexican food, the hope of freshly made, authentic dishes will lure intrepid hombre to make the trek out to Yangpu District to try the offerings of El Mexicano.

Mexican managed and owned, the cheap and cheerful eatery has become a staple of budget conscious Fudan University students and, as evidenced from our visit, is well supported by a sizeable Latin expat community in the surrounding areas.

Situated along the busy Handan Road, the dusty expanses of the highway are an unlikely spot for a restaurant.

But while seeming to be an outpost in the foreign restaurant landscape, the earthen-toned interior complete with obligatory sombrero and charming hand drawn paintings makes for a welcoming atmosphere.

The menu is an extensive array of Mexican classics with fajitas and enchiladas and Tex Mex-style nachos providing a hearty feed for between 21 and 30 yuan (US$3-4.4) for a large serving.

Despite three waitresses crowding around a cash register, the small six-to-eight table restaurant does not offer table service and diners order from the main counter.

The food comes out at a fair click, with our initial foray, an order of nachos (30 yuan), arriving in under five minutes.

The dish was a disappointment for a self-proclaimed "original Mexican style" specialist.

Its lightening arrival on the table could have been due to it getting a zap in a microwave, which rendered the chips soggy and chewy rather than crisp and freshly fried.

The serving had a sparse dollop of refried beans and an economical sprinkling of cheese.

When late arriving friends also decided to try the nachos, their dish was a different beast.

A good third bigger, with a good spread of ingredients and crisp, freshly fried chips, its improved standard pointed to an inconsistent kitchen when the owner wasn't in the house.

A rare sighting in Shanghai was found on the drinks menu with two classic "Aguas Frescas," the vanilla-laced Horchata and the tart fruity Jamaica.

Aguas Frescas are refreshing drinks made out of a variety of fruits, sugar, grains, seeds and water.

The Horchata is a traditional drink across Spain and Latin America and this version was a milky offering with cinnamon and vanilla that made an ideal thirst quencher for Shanghai's sweltering summer heat.

Given the success of the Horchata, we also tried the Jamaica. Made from hibiscus tea, the drink had a pleasant tart taste similar to cranberry juice and can be drunk hot or cold.

Other main course offerings included the beef ranchero-style burrito and the chicken fajita and green enchiladas.

While chicken breast is the cheapest of the bird's cuts in this town, it has to be handled with care to avoid it becoming stringy and tough. The enchilada and the fajita failed to circumvent this potential pot hole and both dishes had a dry texture. The fajita arrived on a hot plate with a variety of ingredients such as caramelized onion and cooked cubed potatoes but, like its plate, failed to sizzle.

It also should have come with a tortilla to wrap its various elements. The beef burrito was plagued by a slightly tough dry texture. But in defence of the dishes, they were all substantial meals with an accompanying rice or salad on the plate.

And here lies the rub for El Mexicano. It is a good local budget offering for the surrounding student population. But it doesn't do enough to stand out from the herd of Tex Mex offerings in Shanghai's downtown to induce a hombre to saddle up the steed for a return visit.

El Mexicano

Address: Suite 10, 100 Handan Rd, near Yunguang Rd.

Tel: 5167-0383



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