The interior of El Mariachi is covered in an explosion of folk art.
Splashes of pink, turquoise, green and blue appear on chairs, booths and walls of this grocery store-turned-restaurant in the Westmount neighbourhood.
Inside the eatery, located at 10991 124th St., you'll find all the goods necessary to make Mexican dishes at home on the shelves towards the back of the room. Or you can save yourself the work and dig into a bounty of dishes by ordering off an extensive menu where the motto, 'The more the merrier,' would fit well.
A two-sided, laminated 11x17 inch bill of fare lists variations of tacos, tortas, and enchiladas, plus grilled shrimp, stuffed pineapple and other Mexican and Tex-Mex offerings.
Less is more
However, when it comes to menus, less is more, and El Mariachi would do well to consider slashing that menu in half and concentrating on quality rather than quantity.
Every meal starts with complimentary tortilla chips and house-made salsa. You will need these humble offerings to placate your hunger as the wait for food on both visits was interminably long.
Was the wait worth it?
Si and no.
The pambazo is the hands-down winner of the six dishes tried. A sandwich made of white bread slices dipped and soaked in red pepper sauce, layered with chorizo and potato, stuffed with lettuce then fried in oil is a handful, a mouthful, and a flavourful surprise.
Beef tongue and beef head tacos are also a nice surprise despite the meat being on the unseasoned side. The saving grace is that the beef is tender and comes accented with a hefty amount of cilantro and white onion.
The six house-made salsas, offered gratis, give you limitless options on how to doctor the tacos. You will need these condiments, and should find one that pleases, no matter your heat tolerance.
Lacking heart, soul, flavour
Sopa de tortilla (tortilla soup), a traditional soup with a broth of tomato, garlic, onion, chili de arbol and epazote, should have depth to spare, but it doesn't.
Instead, the flavours are thin and lifeless, a result perhaps of long and slow steps missed in favour of prepared readiness.
Fajitas and entomatadas (chicken enchiladas) are also a disappointment in taste and appearance. Both lack heart, soul, flavour and a sense of anything other than quick preparation.
The choriqueso barely saved the second visit.
At $14, this bubbling hot dip of melted mozzarella and chorizo served with tortilla chips is a steep price to pay for a small amount of sausage and cheese, tasty as it is.
El Mariachi is unlicensed as yet, so while you nibble on chips and salsa and endure the wait for food, sip on a Jarritos soda or the refreshing hibiscus flower-based drink, agua de Jamaica.
A little streamlining would serve El Mariachi well.
A menu with fewer options and more fresh ingredients is always a good recipe to follow.