Good Mexican food in London — impossible? We visit Chipotle to find out.

2 Oct
Posted in: England, Food, London
By    5 Comments

British food is not bland, dull, or horrible. Portion sizes are generally not that much smaller than the massive piles of food we’ve come to expect in the US. In fact, the food is pretty much…the same as it is in the US. And there’s a reason for that — a reason outlined over 500+ pages in a fascinating book I recently read, Eating In America: as you may recall, the founders of the US, the very first presidents and residents, were British! The authors bemoan this fact endlessly, as in their view, our British ties are the main problem with food in America. While they’re shameless worshipers of all things French, they also make a convincing argument that the pilgrims should have put more effort into learning Native American foods and methods of cooking. While this makes sense (in hindsight), in reality it’s easy to see why the pilgrims carried their foods and eating traditions with them and forced them out of the ground in New England. If you’re homesick, what kind of food do you want most? Well, comfort food, of course. Food was the only part of the pilgrims’ daily lives that could come close to feeling like home. Since then, American cuisine has been influenced by many other cultures, especially by Mexican food.

I’m going on about American food and pilgrims because we saw a surprising number of American chains in London. Right on the main street in the residential, non-touristy neighborhood where we were house-sitting there was a Domino’s, a KFC, a Subway, and a Pizza Hut. There are McDonaldses and Burger Kings. And there are Chipotles. Not one, like I originally thought, but five. Chipotle has definitively moved in on London.

Liquefied pico de gallo

Liquefied pico de gallo

Being a somewhat raving Chipotle fan, I’d planned to visit as soon as possible when we were in London. But the days of our visit marched on and we were eating so much delicious food that Chipotle kept slipping down the list. We finally visited the Chipotle on Charing Cross Road, near the touristy awfulness of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square. And it was different. The rice was crunchy and undercooked, the pico de gallo, my favorite part of any Chipotle meal, did not exist — it had been pulverized into a “real” salsa. It looked similar, but the fresh lightness of the veggie bowl was sadly lacking.

But I can’t judge Chipotle too harshly, because we didn’t have any other Mexican food in London, so I’m not sure where the Mexican food bar is set here. Real Mexican food isn’t common in London. Maybe people don’t know what Mexican food is supposed to taste like. On awnings for places proclaiming to serve Mexican food, I’d see things like “California Mexican” or “Tex-Mex” or “Jugs of Margaritas for £20!” The closest Mexican place to our temporary home is over a mile away according to Google (in Chicago we had at least five in a two-block radius). The next closest place is called El Paso and one reviewer says that the “ribs are good.” I’m not saying that Chipotle is an authentic Mexican restaurant, because it is not, but if you don’t know what makes a good taco, it’s hard to know what makes a good fast food taco. London needs a Mexican food infusion! Or maybe just we do.

And that is all.

Like my Mom taught me when I was five...almost isn't close enough.

Like my Mom taught me when I was five…almost isn’t close enough.