Picture in your mind two Mexican restaurants somewhere in America…Seattle, for example.
Place 1 serves housemade refried beans, tacos, enchiladas and offer both green and red salsas for your corn chips. The food is competently done. but often not remarkably so. Their idea of an entree means that the burritos come with beans and rice. The floors are tidy, but worn from years of foot traffic. The walls are decorated as if someone had decided to go to a Tijuana garage sale at the last minute and had only twenty dollars to spend. The cost for a dinner at this place? Seven dollars…nine, if you include a tip.
Place 2 also sells tacos, enchiladas and burritos, but dresses them up a bit. Instead of shredded beef tacos, they sell carne asade tacos. Names like Habenero enchiladas and Chipotle smoked Prawns dot the menu. Entrees are sold with a side of black beans and rice. The restaurant itself is presented in soft light, and candles pepper the space like a Roman Catholic Church on Lent. A fireplace is prominent in the center of the room. The walls are a soft wood paneling, and the skulls of several bulls can be found, giving the place the earth
The price for a dinner at the second place? Seventeen dollars on average, including tip.
If someone were to ask me which place I would prefer, I’d have say the first, for reasons I can’t quite put my fingers on.
Part of it is the fact that Mexican food as we Americans know it, is so blessedly effortless. My favorite place for Mexican in Seattle is a little place called El Puerco Lloron, and the food is simply marvelous. You order one of ten dishes from the board, pick a drink from their choices of beers and sodas and then you have a seat at a card table on folding chairs that appear to have been last used a church social. The meat (mostly pork) that comes with what ever dish you have chosen is so moist that it falls apart in your mouth without the aid of your teeth. Their pico de gallo sings upon the tongue. With a bottle of cold beer, this meal is near perfection. That’s all that is really needed.
Places like those similar to the second restaurant mentioned above try to impress with atmosphere, yet seemingly have done nothing in the way of proving why one should pay twelve dollars for tacos. They have a fully stocked bar, over 50 beers to choose from, several tequilas and yet have added nothing food-wise beyond what I could get at El Puerco Lloron. There’s no mole, no pozole, not even an arroz con pollo upon the menu.
I know that perhaps my expectations are too high. This is Seattle after all, not San Diego, or Albuquerque. There are also many fine upscale Mexican Restaurants in the area that either offer more than burritos, enchiladas and tacos, or bring something additional to these standard recipes.
What we have is a new “Kate’s Law“. Let’s call it Kate’s Law of the Proportional Cost of Burritos. This law states that the more money spent on a burrito, the higher probability of disappointment in the dish. This law can be applied to many Mexican Standards, including enchiladas, tacos, etc. etc.
You folks can have your Fifteen dollar Enchiladas. I’ll stick to the ones in the four to eight dollar range.