Ask any expat what he or she wishes Berlin had more of, and more often than not, the answer is “good Mexican food.” It’s no different for me, although as a native Californian, I have to wonder what standards people from other countries have. I’m not trying to be an elitist; I just think I have a far better idea of what “genuine” Mexican food tastes like. Other Californians feel me on this, and I know those in the Southwestern states also have slightly varying but ultimately somewhat similar notions of what it means.
Here in Berlin there are a handful of Mexican restaurants, although sadly, many of them are run either by Americans or Spaniards as opposed to actual people from Mexico. As consequence, they tend to make good food, but it isn’t necessarily authentic. Case in point: the well-loved Ta’Cabrón Taquería. It came highly recommended, but my sole experience there consisted of some tasty guacamole (delicious, but too salty and lacking in spice) and a burrito that tasted more like New American fusion cuisine than anything I have ever eaten in California or Mexico. My conclusion: good food, but not Mexican.
So when I first heard about Chaparro, a relatively new Mexican restaurant a short walk from me, I knew I had to try it out. Prior to visiting, all I knew was that it was comparable to Dolores in taste and style, it had plenty of veg options, and the presentation of the food was beautiful. Naturally, I told my four American friends in town, and they joined me and M. on our dining excursion.
We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and it was pretty busy, but considering all the seating–indoor and out–we found a large table and took over. The nice thing about dining with a larger group was that we all had different diets (three vegans, two vegetarians, and one lactose-intolerant pescatarian) and different tastes, so we all ordered different things, and were (mostly) able to share among one another.
I got the burrito with the soyrizo (something which is totally different in Germany than in the states, and not really my favourite, to be honest), no rice (I have almost always disliked rice in my burritos), guacamole, beans, and chipotle sauce. M. got the quesadilla, also with the fake meat. Three people got burritos, and another pal got the tacos. Of course I washed my meal down with a glass bottle of Coca-Cola.
First thoughts are that the presentation is clean… perhaps a little bit too clean. It’s a well-known and somewhat unfortunate fact that the cleaner a presentation is, the higher the chances that Mexican food is going to be too “white.” Also what is with paper wrapping on the burritos?! It’s not authentic (our West Coast burritos come with tinfoil), and it does nothing to keep the burrito juice from soaking through and getting all over your hands. It can also result in the paper sticking to the burrito. Not tasty.
However, the burrito tasted good. And although it was smaller than I expected, it was still pretty filling. It did lack kick, and I think next time I will go with the grilled vegetables as opposed to the fake meat, and step up the temperature of my sauce. They do have salsa verde though, so props to that. While it’s not particularly spicy, it is delicious.
M. enjoyed his quesadilla but had two things to say. The first is that he prefers the quesadilla at Dolores. The second is that his was still good, but nowhere near as filling as he would have hoped. He actually ended up eating bites of my burrito, in addition to helping a friend finish hers. So now we know when we come here that he needs to fuel up with a burrito, which seems to be the most substancial of all the options at Chaparro.
And then there were the tacos, which looks stellar. Again, my friend eating them said they were great but left him not quite full, so they are a better snack for the average person, as opposed to a full meal for someone who is starving.
All in all, M. and I enjoyed our experience enough to return a few days later, where we split a burrito en route to a birthday party, and the people next to us offered their untouched sauce, so we had two different kinds. Yum! I think the food at Chaparro is pretty on-par quality-wise with Dolores, and it certainly is close enough that I imagine I will frequent the place now and again. Chaparro is perhaps one step closer to what I am missing, but the journey for the best Mexican food in Berlin continues, with this being toward the top of the list.
So that said, what do I think Mexican food is? Mexican is the late-night taquerias that serve up food, quick and dirty, with gigantic portions at minimal cost. Mexican is greasy and highly suspect food trucks that park in the same place, night after night, delivering consistent products. Mexican is Pokez, El Farolito, Mi Pueblo, Papalote, Gracias Madre, El Cuervo, and many many more. I only hope that someday, someplace in Berlin will make it onto that list too.