Monday, May 18, 2009

The Worst Mexican Restaurant on Earth

I do need to make known the identity and location of the worst Mexican restaurant on earth. Yes, I am sure that there are worse places, in health terms, and maybe even quality of food (since some of the food we had there was, in fact, very tasty).

No, the reason that Chilli's (UPDATE NOTE, SINCE 10 COMMENTERS MISSED THIS: IT HAS TWO LL's; It is not the American restaurant chain. And just try to pronounce Chilli's, in Spanish; you will pull a muscle in your throat) on Spardoferstrasse in Erlangen is the worst Mexican restaurant in the world is that it claims to be a Mexican restaurant. It is not. I don't mean on the scale of Taco Bell in the U.S., where it is just Americanized Mexican food. Someone from Mexico might still recognize some of the things served at the Taco Bell (rice and bean, for example, some of the spices).

The EYM and I were pretty excited about going to Chilli's, since I speak Spanish a little, at least for ordering in a restaurant, and he speaks Spanish better than I do. So, no confusion over what is going on with the menu, for once. And, we will be able to talk to the wait staff, all of whom presumably are Latino, right. (I may have been fooled by the fact that in the U.S., even the Japanese people at Benihana are actually Latino. My bad.)

We go in, and are told (in good English, btw) that there aren't many tables open, and that we should sit by the bar at one of those tall tables. Fair enough. The waitress comes, and I say, "Querríamos nachos, numero once, and para bebir, un botello de agua con gas." (If you don't know what that means, then okay, because you are not a waiter in a Mexican restaurant. And if you know that I used the wrong form of the verb querer, then you DO speak Spanish, but still my order was pretty simple and clearly understandable by the standards of ordering in Spanish. The point is that nachos were #11 on the menu, and we wanted some, and some water.)

She stares at me as if I suggested something quite deviant. I try English, and that works better. The "nachos" come. They are chips two steps down from Doritos, with nasty nacho cheese powder (Mungowitz family joke: "That's MY cheese; that's notchyo cheese!"). Flat, really bad, nearly inedible. At least the dips are....awful. One cup of sour cream, and one cup of ketchup, with stewed tomatoes added. No cheese, no toppings...incredible.

Waitress comes back, and I try again. "Es verdad que estan abierto in las dias laborables? Para almuerzo? " We had come by for lunch, the previous day, and the place had been closed. Waitress says, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." I realized she really, really didn't speak Spanish. Asked again, and she said (a) they don't open until 17:30, and (b) the day we came, there must have been a really big party, so they were closed. Since we had come at 12:30, which is before 17:30, that didn't make much sense to me. But, okay, fair enough.

We ordered. I ordered camarones al chipotle. The EYM didn't really look at the menu. He just wanted quesadillas, and assumed. Mistake. When he said, "quesadillas," waitress frowned, looked at menu, and said "where is it?" He looks, takes a while to find it, a little flustered. To be fair, it is SUBSTANTIALLY misspelled in the menu. Waitress says, "Oh, you mean [strange word nothing at all like quesadillas]. What do you want on them?"

The EYM's eyes are starting to bug out a little. "Um...just pollo is fine." Waitress turns, goes back, asks guy behind the bar. They talk for a second. She comes back, a little testy: "Pollo is the Spanish word for CHICKEN!" Her tone implies that this is about the stupidest thing she has heard: chicken quesadillas? Unheard of. As Vizzini kept saying on "Princess Bride": Inconceivable!

The EYM and I are both amazed. I ask, "What DO you have for meat for the quesadillas?" As if speaking to a child, waitress says, "TURKEY!" (Okay, so there are quite a few recipes for turkey quesadillas; 7k+ mentions on Google. But... chicken quesadillas gets nearly 250k Google hits. I'm just saying that pollo was not an absurd answer.) (UPDATE: And, no it is not ridiculous for the wait staff to speak no Spanish. It just says that I had ridiculous expectations of feeling at home, instead of my usual total ignorance of the menu. A typically Americentric response, I think. I should get out more....)

The EYM is just trying to make this stop, at this point. He says, reading from the menu, "Just the chili, then." I order the shrimp, and the agony is over. (They did, I should note, and like pretty much every restaurant in Germany, have a very nice weissbier on tap, and so that helped us over the pain.)

The waitress brings the food. The "quesadillas" were rock hard, and filled with chili the clearly came from Chef Hormel-ito. Appalling. This was served with rice and beans and quacamole. NOT. It was served with some purple lettuce and cabbage, with a big dollop of mayo, and then some canned corn and canned navy beans. More of the sour cream, and more of the ketchup salsa.

On the other hand, my shrimp curry was quite good. The sauce had a very nice Asian tang, and the shrimp were crisp and seemed quite fresh. How "camarones al chipotle" became a shrimp curry dish, I'm not sure, but I have to give the chef credit there. Still, though, no rice, no beans, no cilantro, no trace of anything that I would call Mexican.

For the next two days, either the EYM or I could make the other laugh by yelling, "Pollo? POLLO?"

Here is the menu. Note that quesadillas is first spelled "quasadas" as an appetizer. (There is no known food called "quasadas," I want to point out). Then it is spelled with an "e", "quesedillas," as an entree. Note then the use of English all over the menu, in strange places.

Clearly, this is not a Mexican restaurant. It is a German restaurant trying to be like an American restaurant that serves food with Mexican names. Sort of.

(CLOSING UPDATE: As a commenter notes, "It sounds like you made an ass of yourself in public, and now you are bragging about it." Well, I don't mean to brag. But it is true that almost NO ONE is better at making an ass of themselves in public than I am. It's a special talent. Not just anyone can do it....More specifically, though, of COURSE it was dumb, and unreasonable, to expect the waitstaff to speak Spanish. Especially when my own Spanish is so awful (though better than my German). That's part of what I thought was funny about the incident. It says more about my narrow and parochial mind than it does the restaurant. But isn't it a little surprising that CHICKEN quesadillas was such an outrageoous suggestion?)

64 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ha ha! Reminds me of eating chinese food in Holland. BIG MISTAKE!

My European rule of thumb - only eat European food in Europe (i.e. Italian food in Spain, or French food in Italy, etc.,) and nothing else!

Paul said...

German Chinese food: a half hour later, you're hungry for power...

Luc Perkins said...

I feel partially responsible. I should have warned you when we hung out the other day. My first experience with European Mexican food was in Vienna last summer. Similarly appalling. Not even remotely Mexican. The biggest let-down is the salsa: you're absolutely that it's basically sweet ketchup. Really revolting, particularly when you bite into it with the expectation that it's gonna be something spicy or tasty. I will never make this mistake ever again.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you now officially own the first Google-hit for "quasadas". Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

'Chilis' is not a mexican restaurant, though they have some mexican style dishes. The ketchup salsa sounds like a tragedy.

Anonymous said...

Funny, that resto does not appear to be one of tripadvisor's best resto recommendations for Erlangen. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g187305-Erlangen_Bavaria.html

Re: PP - I did have decent Mexican food in Berlin, but have hard time finding it in Canada.

Robert S. Porter said...

I'm soon moving to Berlin, I'll keep an eye out for good Mexican food there.

If you want good Mexican food in Canada you need to go to Montreal.

Nathalie said...

Don't. Just don't try to find Mexican food in Bavaria. It doesn't work, by any means. If you want a worse experience than the Chili's - which actually is possible - try the El Lobo, there's still a lot of room for "worse". Oh, and then there would be a few other places in the area, in Bamberg or Hirschhaid, which might fall under "trying to be Mexican, but failing miserably".

The El Sombrero - which is in the area of the Audimax/Kochstr - actually serves rather decent food (but, still, you should remember you're pretty far away from Mexico), the Chili's is just a bar that tries to serve food that's a bit more fancy than fries and burgers from frozen pattys that do not represent a burger any more than McD does.

Paul said...

Reminds me of when we lived in Germany in the late 1980s. We traveled to Lahnstul just for Mexican food. I don't recall it being memorable either way, but don't think it was very good.

A few years ago we were traveling in Austria with friends who don't speak German and the waiter heard us speaking English so he brought the English menus. The translation was so bad we couldn't determine what the food was. We finally requested the German menu and enjoyed a delightful meal.

Nick said...

I live in Bamberg (about 20 min north of Erlangen) and I thought I had tried every Mexican restaurant in the area. I was apparently wrong, but I am glad to have found this review before I inevitably tried Chili’s Erlangen. For the record, I highly recommend Joe's Cantina in Wurzburg for Mexican food in Bayern. Excellent portions, good food and great service.

Anonymous said...

So are you trying to say that some restaurants use an ethnic label as a simple sales gimmick? And these corporate food factory chains are merely trying to sell cheap easily produced frozen dinner quality food to the public masses for a profit rather than prepare authentic high quality food that caters to the most educated and sophisticated diners?

Thanks for blowing that cover captain obvious!

Peter said...

Dear folks, the Germans normally do not speak any other foreign language except English. Furthermore do not try to get spicy food in Germany, Austria or Spain (!). These people generally do not like spicy food and prepare everything which should be spicy in a sweetish way. Maybe you will find better Mexican food in Switzerland, where they often also speak Spanish.

Peter A said...

Why would you try to speak Spanish in a Mexican restaurant in Germany? Are you this pretentious in every ethnic restaurant you visit? If you tried to speak Spanish in a Mexican restaurant in New Hampshire you would get the same lack of comprehension. Maybe you should learn German.

And Chilli's in Spanish would be pronounced "Chee-Yee's" - doesn't pull a muscle in my throat.

You're right though that Mexican food in Europe is almost uniformly awful, even in Spain, and should be avoided by even the most home-sick Americans.

Vanya said...

I know Americans, hell most people of any nationality, have a very hard time empathizing with foreigners. But I'd ask the author of this blog to do the following experiment. Imagine you are working in a pizza restaurant in Columbus, OH and a German couple walk in and start ordering in (bad) Italian and then getting frustrated with you because you don't understand Italian (and oddly enough you happen to speak decent German). Then they ask for pizza with tuna and onions (very normal in Italy, not so much in the US) and start laughing at you when you tell them you don't have it on the menu. How would you feel? Can you see how pretentious and obnoxious that waitress probably thought you were?

Anonymous said...

I have no sympathy for you.

If you wanted Mexican Food you should have gone to a LOCAL Mexican resturant instead of some chain like Chili's. Did you really expect good Mexican food from a chain?

alejandro villagomez said...

Dear Friend

I am not surprise... it happens many times with Mexican (and also other kind of food in other countries)......

But if you try Mexican food on another time... please... nachos is not the right choice... (I guess I knew what nachos was when I went to the US for the first time as a kid!!!).... Cheddar (I am sorry) is not the right cheese in Mexico...

One more thing.... Taco Bell, please.... ??!!.... rice and beens? this are sweet beans... not a normal mexican choice....

When I travel I am more lucky looking for small restaurants when I try to eat food of other countries....

Good luck next time....

Alejandro

Anonymous said...

I honestly have never thought of Chili's as a Mexican restaurant before, only as a normal American bar and grill... I guess its about expectations.

Anonymous said...

I thought Erlangen was in Bavaria?

Anonymous said...

Ok, seriously people. Please read the name of the place. It's named "Chilli's"--2, count them, 2 "L"'s. This is not the same as "Chili's" which is the crap-ass American chain.

As far as Mexican food in Europe, it's just unrecognizable. They sometimes have similar names to actual dishes, but, in general, the ingredients and appearances are radically different.

The worst "Mexican" restaurants I've ever been to were in London and Zurich, but I've yet to have the opportunity to similarly abuse my palate with the German version.

Anonymous said...

this might have been the most entertaining blawg I have ever read. maybe that is because I used to work in one of those places, I don't know.

I find it hilarious that a) you look for genuine Mexican food in some backwater hole here in Germany. those places are for teens only. b) you complain about the linguistic capabilities of the staff (those are students as a rule) but you order "un botello", ask for "AND algo para bebIR". c) are happy and assuaged by finding weissbier (gasp) on tap (gasp) in Germany (what?) in Bavaria (come again?) while you were really just looking for the real Mexican food experience. for future reference: the number weissbier has on most Mexican menues is numero quince.

sad.

Mungowitz said...

I accept the critiques, yes, I do. But to be fair we thought it might be an adventure, and it was.

Two clarifications:

1. I recognize "nachos" is not Mexican. But these were not nachos. When I eat at "Mexican" restaurants (i.e., in Mexico), I usually order fish. But I figured that the nachos in Germany would at least be edible.

2. This is "Chilli's." Not the American restaurant chain "Chili's." And the restaurant, on its web site, calls itself "Chill's Mexican Restaurant y Bar." It IS, as it happens, a chain, with two restaurants, one in Erlangen and one in Nuremberg.

Mungowitz said...

Oh, and for 9:55 pm: the quince tip is invaluable. Thanks!

Foobarista said...

One interesting point: I had really good Mexican food in Shanghai, as well as good Peruvian food. German restaurants in China are actually fairly common and often good. Foreign restaurants in China generally try hard to get the food right and are usually fairly high-end, so they often have chefs trained in the country where the cuisine is from.

And yes, I had vast amounts of glorious Chinese food, but I was there for almost a year, so I had to have some variety...

Neuroskeptic said...

It's not pretentious to not like a crap restaurant, people.

Matt said...

It's not pretentious to not like a crap restaurant, but it's pretentious to the point of ridiculous to belittle the staff at a restaurant in Germany for not speaking Spanish.

Anonymous said...

I do not want to defend the restaurant but seriously:

1. Who wants to go to a Mexican Restaurant in Erlangen, coming from the US?

2. On the Etymology of the term Chili and Chilli see http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_con_Carne

3. Did you ever try to find a good Turkish or Greek restaurant in the US?

Travel more and you will learn to make better restaurant choices.

Mungowitz said...

Settle down, people! For 6:00 am:

On this very blog, I have been writing for nearly a month about the WONDERFUL restaurants and meals one can have in Germany. I have talked before about Canada, Chile, and Australia.

If you find one negative review so upsetting, perhaps you should read a different blog. You are obviously too sensitive to read a grown-up blog. Or perhaps you should read more of THIS blog before commenting. In fact, maybe if you read more, pumpkin, you can write more intelligent comments.

You do make a good point about Turkish or Greek restaurants. In fact, the proper analogy is probably döner shops. If I went into a "Turkish" restaurant in the U.S., and tried to speak Turkish (which I don't), asked for döner and then wrote a blog post about how awful the döner was....well, I would have every right to do that. I don't understand the defensiveness here. If you want to make fun of Turkish restaurants in the U.S., you are welcome. I won't get my boxer shorts in a slip knot over it.

Finally, I wasn't interested in the etymology of Chilli's. It was the pronunciation I was questioning.

Anonymous said...

Lighten up people - it's a fun, short, amusing story. Don't like it? Stop reading this blog!! Easy as pie. Channel your inner libertarian.

Anonymous said...

Munger - Blame Tyler Cowan for the vitrol - he posted a link to this blog entry on marginal revolution ...

vanya said...

Every Turkish restaurant I've been to in the US is run by Turks, and every Greek restaurant run by Greeks. No, as I said the best analogy is a pizza place - rarely run by Italians in the US these days and usually pretty provincial. I'm not trying to be vitriolic, just would like Mungowitz to take a second to think from the waitress' perspective. I assume Mungowitz has never worked in a restaurant.

Also, as Peter pointed out, the word "Chilli" is not hard for a Spanish speaking person (or an English speaking person) to pronounce. Why is that name an issue? Oddly it would be harder for a German to pronounce.

Anonymous said...

I believe Chili's is a Tex/Mex or Southwestern-style restaurant - not really Mexican food. What it really is Tex/Mex-marketed Applebee's...

Anonymous said...

"I assume Mungowitz has never worked in a restaurant." You know what happens when you ASSUME...

Anonymous said...

I dunno; I think this one place I went to in New Haven or New London in the late 80s could give it a run for its money.

Served the cold, fresh from the bag tortilla chips with piping hot marinara sauce, they did.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, I had a good friend who LOVED mexican food move to India, and she nearly died when she saw a fancy mexican restaurant at a nice hotel in Delhi. The waiters were in sombreros, the music was mariachi... but the food was Indian! She was pretty disappointed, and I would venture to say THAT was the worst mexican restaurant on earth!

Anonymous said...

1. Trying to order in Spanish in a "Mexican" restaurant in Germany was a bit hopeful.

2. I had enormous fun taking a pair of Texan friends to a "Tex-Mex" restaurant in France. It was, on reflection, exactly what you'd expect a French Tex-Mex place to be - the food was quite nice, and looked like fairly typical Tex-Mex fare, but was only mildly spiced, and served in small portions attractively presented on square plates.

Will Welch said...

It appears this is a true case of being 'Chilli-Punked'...

Anonymous said...

"You are obviously too sensitive to read a grown-up blog"

heh. heh.

I must have missed the adult content, I'll gladly take a link, though.

bragging about your (lacking) linguistic skills in front of servers is adult now? not being able to spell, nay, speak the language you find so sorely lacking in a backwater hole in Germany... if you would have ordered the meal in German you might have gotten some rownie points. spanglish? not so much.

or is the adult bit the one where you order a WEISSBIER with your Mexican food? because that one still has me baffled.

seriously, post a link to the adult bit. I have worked in one of those German tex-mex places. you could charge for that.

Anonymous said...

Well 9:50pm, I'll have to give the adult-points to Mungowitz - at least he's not anonymous. You (and me for that matter), however, are snot-nosed grad students, who don't have the balls to criticize someone's blog post non-anonymously.

So, if you are an adult, post your name and email address.

Brian said...

Hilarious.

I once ordered a chimichanga at a pub in Kilkenny, Ireland, out of a perverse sense of curiosity. It came on a bed of mashed potatoes and they had somehow managed to extract all flavor from it in the process of frying it. Possibly by boiling it first.

Pumpkin said...

Etymology explains spelling. "Chili" may be spelled "chilli". According to Wiki "Chilli was the original Romanization of the Náhuatl language word for the fruit (chīlli) and is the preferred British spelling according to the Oxford English Dictionary, although it also lists chile and chili as variants. This spelling is discouraged by some, since it would be pronounced differently in Spanish, into which it was first Romanized."

Nice parady: Two fatass Americans up for a adventure go to a Mexican place in Erlangen, talk in broken Spanish to the waiters, make fun of their broken English and wonder why the Mexican food is not Americanized but Germanized. Huh. Watch Gerhard Polt: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjTQziSObf8

Luis said...

Do Mexican restaurants even exist in Italy? I cooked a Mexican dinner for family members living in Italy - they loved it! Had a really difficult time finding even basic ingredients.

Mexican Restaurants said...

Interesting article, you make some interesting points .

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Joe E. Holman said...

It sure is hard to get good Mexican food! I now live in the Lewisville, TX area (near Dallas) and coming from San Antonio, even the likes of Dallas cooking is dogshit.

Having been away from it for a long time, I feel for anyone who knows the joys of Mexican food and must go without it!

(JH)

Anonymous said...

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regards,
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Anonymous said...

Try www.avogadomexicangrill.com they have stores in Vicenza, Verona, Torino and I think a few other places in Italy. Its American owned and its the closest thing to real mexican food you will find out there.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago we were traveling in Austria with friends who don't speak German and the waiter heard us speaking English so he brought the English menus. The translation was so bad we couldn't determine what the food was. We finally requested the German menu and enjoyed a delightful meal.
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David Gillies said...

I've had good Tex Mex in the UK. I used to go to a great place (Cocina) in Bradford, owned by a woman from Albuquerque. The chef was from Guadalajara if I recall.

Oh, and in Central America, folks go nuts for Taco Bell.

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Anonymous said...

I lived 5 years in Netherlands/Germany, also in Nürnberg and i can tell you there are any place with real mexican food over there. Ingredients are difficult to get and some i had to bring them from mexico, like epazote, salsa valentina, mole and some. I want to open a REAL mexican food restaurante in Germany, they´ll love the food, the ambience, the music and the drinks (even Corona beer)... of course i'll need a cheap version of limetten (limes) they are *** expensive over there!

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Anonymous said...

Just come across this blog, albeit later than most apparently.

The majority of comments just depict how ignorant and narrow minded most Americans are. When it comes to food, what exactly is the US famous for? Mac Donnalds? Taco bell? To assume that all Mexican food in Europe is virtually inedible is crazy. Sure, in the US you can get a great burger (as you can in any city in Europe) Is it unreasonable to assume that perhaps poor choices were made in actually selecting these restaurants? Europe (as much as you might find irritating) Undoubtedly, the best and most diverse cuisine on earth comes from Europe. Some of the greatest food on earth can be found in London - often far superior to where the recipe originates from, including Mexican cuisine. Also to state that in Spain they don't like spicy food? What sort of generalisation is that? A very ignorant one, made by a member of the fattest & unhealthiest nation on the planet. We all know that Americans are pretty much limited to what happens within the boundaries of your own country, and have close to zero culture of your own, but thats like stating in the US you dont like rare meat. Don't forget we've had hundreds (or thousands) of years to practice our kitchen skills, and in the event anyone chooses to respond to this comment, remember your ancestors we're from Europe, and from not that long ago...