In Search of Spice: A Mexican Food Tour

Culture shock hits you when you least expect it. For a lot of us it will take form as a late-night emotional breakdown at the realization that our violent craving for an order of carnitas wrapped in freshly made corn tortillas will have to instead be satisfied with a lukewarm empanada. No one ever said living abroad was going to be easy. But although pickings are slim, Santiago is not completely void of comida mexicana. So if you can’t go another day without your tongue tingling in delicious pain from an unexpected bite of jalapeño, try out one of these following locations.

Chicken Enchiladas, Mexicana Photo by Ginger Wojcik
Chicken Enchiladas, Mexicana Photo by Ginger Wojcik

Mexicana

Tucked into an unassuming nook in the comuna of Ñuñoa, Mexicana woos its customers with a festive barrage of Mexican-style décor and notably attentive service. Their alternative spin on the chili relleno (written as aji relleno on the menu) is especially delicious. The chilis are stuffed with pureed black beans and then fried in a delicate egg batter and lastly topped with cubes of queso fresco. And while this appetizer does not scream authenticity, it is a pleasant surprise for the grease conscious folks among us. The enchilada dish is lathered in a homemade red sauce that delivers a rare and exciting encounter with spiciness. The menu also provides a wide variety of taco options, including carnitas sautéed in coca-cola, which although in theory sounds disconcerting, is delightful in practice. If you’re serious about your quest for Mexican food, the slightly elevated prices at Mexicana should be of no issue, the food is that good.
Mains: $5,500-$7,000
Avenida Condell 1576, Ñuñoa Santiago
(02) 634 4413

The Burrito Plate, Los Cuates Photo by Ginger Wojcik
The Burrito Plate, Los Cuates Photo by Ginger Wojcik

Taxco Cantina

While it might go against your natural inclination to eat somewhere with a name that simultaneously conjures up images of the IRS and one of those low-end gas stations that water down their gasoline, at Taxco try not to judge the book by its cover. Conveniently situated amongst a cataclysm of upscale cocktail restaurants in Plaza Ñuñoa, Taxco offers a comfortable outside sitting area with views of the picturesque plaza, and the food isn’t too bad either. Although far from authentic, they offer a burrito that is rich in flavor, generous in portion, and notably affordable. It comes bathed in a generic, but nonetheless delicious, red sauce and is stuffed with black beans, something resembling Spanish rice, and your choice of chicken, steak, or shrimp. For the big spender, the fajitas are recommendable. The menu also includes an extensive selection of decadent mixed drinks and beers on tap.
Mains: $4,000-$6,000
Avenida 19 de Abril 3540, Plaza Ñuñoa Santiago
(+56 2) 7617582

 Los Cuates Photo by Ginger Wojcik
Los Cuates Photo by Ginger Wojcik

Los Cuates

If this place does one thing right it’s imitating that understated “our food is so good we don’t have to decorate the walls” taquería vibe that usually means you’re in for an authentic experience. While this feeling momentarily convinces you that you’ve finally found a decent Mexican food joint in Santiago, that feeling quickly subsides once you receive your order. That being said, the food isn’t bad, it’s just not Mexican food. This lack of authenticity can be largely attributed to the owners’ gluten-free, grease free philosophy, which although gives the food notable health points, definitely leaves something to be desired. They put a dynamic twist on their burrito platter, serving three small tortillas each filled with your choice of beef, chicken, or mushrooms and adorned with a generous dollop of perfectly executed guacamole. The menu contains a range of your classic Mexican dishes, such as huevos racheros and chilaquiles, with prices ranging from affordable to shockingly expensive.
$4,000-$8,000
Avenida Manuel Montt 235, Providencia Santiago
(+56 2) 2642376

Mulitas, El Chorra de Oro, Photo by Ginger Wojcik
Mulitas, El Chorra de Oro, Photo by Ginger Wojcik

El Charro de Oro

Conveniently placed in a vibrant corner of Santiago’s famed Barrio Brazil, this restaurant is an important stop on your quest for a proper plate of Mexican food. Their mulitas are an embellished take on the classic quesadilla, coming with delightfully seasoned chicken fused with melted cheese. The menu is also abundant in seafood options, including an incredibly tangy and generously portioned ceviche. The outside sitting area has been assembled to imitate Baja California’s glamorously ragged life on the beach reputation. Which they’ve interpreted as lazily arranged decorations of scrap wood and randomly placed pieces of old furniture with intermittent tiki torches. Although the staff appear to have little interest in your existence, the food is rich in flavor and will not leave you unsatisfied.
$3,000-$6,000
Avenida Ricardo Cumming 342, Barrio Brazil Santiago
(+56 2) 6972695

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