What does Mexican food have to do with shammy time, you might ask? Everything, that's what. I challenge you to find me a cyclist who doesn't like Mexican food. I don't think such an individual exists. If a self-proclaimed cyclist told me that he/she didn't like Mexican food, I'd seriously question his/her credentials as a cyclist. The two are inextricably intertwined. Let's put it this way, the Venn diagram would look something like this:
Okay, you get the picture.
Since most of us spend the last hour or so of a long ride thinking about which Mexican restaurant to go to after the ride, I'm going to help everyone out by providing a few tips. Keeping with the theme established in my "Top N reasons to commute to work" post, here are the top N things to look for when selecting a Mexican restaurant:
*The sign: if it looks like they have hired a graphic designer when creating their sign, then keep on driving (or better yet, riding). All of those colorful and hip signs are really just a sign of a bad Americanized Mexican restaurant with a lot of cheese and big portions (see 1:45).
*Interior and exterior decor: If they do have decorations, it better be done on the cheap, and the cheesier the better. Any image of La Virgin Maria is a huge bonus. When it comes to decorations, less is more. Think of it this way. Racer's Cycle Service is like the good Mexican food of bike shops. I don't know that I can give Racer a bigger compliment than that.
*Child care service in the front: most good Mexican restaurants have at least one little kid running around in the front. If the restaurant has been around long enough, then that same little kid is now running the cash register. The kid is typically related to one of the workers at the restaurant, but not necessarily the son or daughter of said worker. He or she may be a nephew, a cousin, a granddaughter, etc., because Mexicans know how to take care of one another. We could learn a lot from them.
*Prepaid phone cards adorned with Mexican flags: most good Mexican restaurants sell them by the dozens.
*Booth converted into an office: I went to a great Mexican restaurant recently where one of the booths was actually converted into the restaurant office. They had a filing cabinet, a laptop, ream of paper, cup full of pens, a printer, etc., all setup in the corner booth, right next to the booths that everyone else was eating in. I thought it was a nice touch. At least the guy who ran the place could say he had a corner office.
*Order your food at the counter: At most good Mexican joints, you order at the counter, not while seated. You really think you're going to get good Mexican at a "sit-down" place?
*Mexican TV: The TV is always turned on so that the workers have something to do during the down times. Usually, it's a Mexican novela (soap opera), unless of course one of the Mexican clubs has a Futbol game scheduled.
Note that we've already gone through quite a bit of the list, and we haven't even gotten to the food. If the restaurant has passed the majority of the above points, then it's usually a foregone conclusion that the food is going to be sabrosa (delicious).
*Chips and Salsa: This should be an obvious one. If the chips taste like they came out of a Doritos bag and/or the salsa tastes like it came out of a bottle of Pace Picante Sauce, or if the base of the salsa is made from tomato paste instead of real tomatoes, you may as well cut your losses and go somewhere else. The problem is that I'm usually so hungry by this point that I usually have resigned myself to eating bad Mexican food for the sake of getting some quick calories. Taharumara (perhaps the best Mexican in Utah) serves no less than 15 different salsas, and they are all muy rico.
*Beans and rice: Sometimes you make it all the way till the actual meal before knowing whether you are at a good Mexican joint (imagine that). Your first bite should be of the beans and rice. Do the beans taste like they came out of a can? Can you easily stir them, or are they so thick that your entire plate moves if you try stirring them? Does the rice seasoning look like it came from some pre-packaged mix? If so, you are in for a long day.
*Cheese: I've had the good fortune of eating in the homes of probably close to 100 different Mexicans. As shocking as this may sound, I don't think I've ever been served cheddar cheese at the home of a "real" Mexican. Now, I'm not saying you can't have a good Mexican dish with a little Cheddar or Colby Jack. I'm just saying that if they have to put a ton of cheese on it, they're probably trying to hide something. In case you're wondering, most Mexicans I've had the pleasure of dining with use a crumbly dry white cheese that is sold in 2 inch tall by 4 inch wide wheels.
*Cream: The other item I've never had at the home of a "real" Mexican is the thick
sour cream that us "gabachos" put on our baked potatoes. What you want is "crema Mexicana", that dribbles off your spoon and onto your food. If it looks like they applied the American-type sour cream with some sort of cake decorating tool, you may as well leave your tip and go to Taco Bell, because I'm telling you right now that you'll probably get food that is just as good (or bad) for about 1/4 the cost.
*The Nth way to select a Mexican restaurant: Pine-Sol(R). Although this is the first thing you notice as you enter a restaurant, it is also one of the most important, so I saved it for last. If you walk into a Mexican joint and you are overcome by the smell of Pine-Sol, you are golden. All of the above factors are insignificant in comparison to the smell of Pine-Sol. Ask any Mexican lady what she cleans with, and she'll tell you Pine-Sol. Restaurant owners wouldn't trust their cleaning crew (which also happens to be the same people who cook and run the cash register) with anything else.
Feel free to add the (N+1)th method for selecting Mexican restaurants in the comments.