When I first moved to Tel Aviv, I loved everything about it that was different from home. Unfortunately, after the “newness” of a place wears off, one by one you start to remember all of the things you miss from home. The other day I saw someone on Facebook ask expats in Israel what they miss most from home. The answers were dominated by things like Costco, Target, Lucky Charms, Starbucks, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Autumn, and good customer service.
It’s funny how you also start to miss things you rarely eat, visit, or use at home once you can no longer get them. I guess that’s why they say you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. For example, this month I begged my mom to send me S’mores Poptarts when, realistically, I probably haven’t eaten a Poptart in two years. But they were always there, like a shining beacon in the breakfast aisle, mine for the taking if I so desired. Another thing in this category for me is Mexican food. When I lived in San Diego for undergrad, Mexican food was a pretty big staple of my diet, don’t get me wrong. But after moving further from the border, Mexican food got relegated to lunch or dinner maybe once or twice a month or so, often in the form of Chipotle. Regardless, living in Tel Aviv, I’ve got Mexican food on my mind.
I’ve tried all the places that you’re most likely to hear about if you ask an Israeli where to get Mexican food: Donkey (like the sad baby brother of Chipotle), Mex & Co (not bad, but more of an “Israeli-fied” version of Mexican food, not the real stuff), Taqueria (pretty good, but impossible to get a table at), and Mexicali (a tragic disappointment). While Taqueria ispretty good, the location makes finding parking impossible, and they don’t have some of my favorites like enchiladas, so it hasn’t filled the burrito shaped hole in my heart.
Long story short, I’m not alone in my yearning for Mexican food, and one of my friends and I have decided to go on a quest to find the ultimate Mexican restaurant in Tel Aviv. To start, I compiled the data. I went through the archives of the Secret Tel Aviv Facebook page and found all the posts on Mexican food, including some rankings by the experts: Texans, Southern Californians, and Mexicans. Unfortunately, none of the lists matched up exactly, leaving us to determine who will be the winner. I decided to start with Mezcal (not to be confused with Mexicali), which held a position firmly in the top three of all the experts’ rankings. Just walking through the door, I could see why it earned its top spot.
Mezcal is located in the Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv. For non locals, this is basically Tel Aviv’s hipster neighborhood. It’s full of art studios, tattoo parlors, man buns, and some very cool restaurants and bars. The first awesome feature of Mezcal you may notice is that it has its own parking lot behind the building, basically the holy grail in Tel Aviv. The inside of Mezcal is awesome in its own right, boasting bright Mexican artwork, colorful hightop tables, a huge bar, and upbeat Latin music.
The menu recommends ordering two or three dishes each and sharing, so that’s what we did. We went with the small order of enchiladas rojas, the chicken quesadilla, the chicken tinga tacos, and the barbacoa tacos. The food came out as it was prepared, so we had the enchiladas first, the tacos second, and, last but not least, the quesadilla.
The enchiladas rojas were covered in a creamy red sauce, queso fresca, sour cream, and red onions, and stuffed full of shredded chicken. They normally come with cilantro, but since Ofir is one of those people who can’t stand it, we ordered it without. Overall, as a self labeled enchilada connoisseur, I’d say these were some legit enchiladas – the sauce had the right amount of chipotle flavor, and the creaminess was super indulgent. I found the onions to be a little strong, but Ofir was a big fan, and they didn’t ruin the flavor for me.
The first thing I noticed when the tacos came out was the guacamole. Most Mexican places in Tel Aviv use the prepackaged kind of guac, you know, the kind they have at Subway that tastes like citric acid with a touch of avocado. This was not that, thank God. It was real guacamole. And it was all for me since Ofir hates it (yay!).
The tacos came in pairs, perfect for two diners since you can have one of each. My favorite was the chicken tinga, possibly because they came with the guacamole, but Ofir preferred the barbacoa. Honestly, it was hard for me to even say which I liked better, since they were both amazing. The tacos are small, so they aren’t lying when they recommend ordering two or three dishes each. They lasted about two minutes on our table.
After a short wait our quesadilla finally arrived with, wait for it, more guacamole! It was packed with cheese, shredded chicken, and sour cream. In my opinion, quesadillas are pretty hard to mess up, but this one was next level good. This may be nitpicky of me, but I find shredded chicken in a quesadilla to be way better that cut pieces, so it automatically got a thumbs up from me. In fact, it might have been my favorite part of the whole meal. Another great thing about Mezcal? They give you plenty of salsa, and the food is so flavorful you don’t even need that much. Some places here will give you a tiny cup and then charge you for more, so this was refreshing.
The churros on the dessert menu were calling our names, so we had to get them. Sweet and crunchy, they were everything we could have hoped for in a churro.
We didn’t get to try any margaritas (they also have authentic caipirinhas) since we had to be up early the next day, so I think a trip back for dessert and drinks is in order. Right now, Mezcal is number one in my book for Mexican food in Tel Aviv, and it’s going to be pretty tough to beat. That said, the quest must go on, just for the sake of accuracy. Next up is El Taco, which gives Mezcal a run for its money in the rankings I’ve found. All in all, I’m just happy to have found a great Mexican place, and I’ll definitely be returning.