El Burro? Fresh, fun Mexican.
San Julian? Stuff just got real.
Quickie before I begin - Remember people, Mexican is not fine dining or gourmet food, what you see is what you get.
I have eaten at El Burro a couple of times and although I’ve always enjoyed the food it’s the location and décor that cinches it for me. I manage my expectations well that way.
They have a fantastic range on their menu and everything about the food screams fresh and colourful and fun. If you haven’t yet heard of their pork enchiladas or prawn tacos then you’re probably holidaying on another planet. It’s time to come back…
“Chicken Mole Pablano” – the national dish of Mexico – and “Fried Corn Quesadillas” are just a mention of what’s to be found on the menu. Starters range from R33 (stuffed jalapeños) to R56 (cerviche) and mains from R65 (mushroom quesadilla) to R115 (seafood chowder).
It’s the perfect place to go with friends to order loads of Margaritas,
imported tequilas, Naked Mexican beers and there's a massive menu of
Mexican combinations to work your way through... because you will be
The service is friendly and the décor is what you will mostly be talking about the next day.
vs San Julian
I went to San Julian on Rose Street in De Waterkant for a birthday party. I'd heard this is the real deal Mexican. No cheesy tex mex here. Welcome to Tijuana folks.
I need to mention the nachos first. Too often they are sloppily prepared with a mound of cheese piled on top of Dorito-like chips, and, when placed under the grill, the nachos go soggy and once the 4 or 5 cheesy chips on top have been hoovered one is left with sad chips.
At San Julian a large bowl arrives at the table piled high with crispy nachos and jalapeño peppers and the cheese thoroughly tossed throughout ensuring no desperate attempts at grabbing the top nachos. Served with a drop of sour cream and refried beans, I give top marks for such a simple dish. This however is where your journey with cheese comes to an end and everything you thought you knew about Mexican food changes forever...
Although the menu is somewhat limited and scarily authentic (and by scary I mean unfamiliar) it was nice to note that all the tortillas and quesadillas had been made from scratch as were the condiments. The beef sauce on my soft tortilla lacked flavour and depth on its own but once combined with the condiments of the re-fried beans, salsa and chilli sauce the overall taste was good.
Portions are generous and half portions can be ordered on all mains. Menu pricing is reasonable - for plenty of margaratias, nachos and a main course each the bill came to R185 a head. You can’t put a price on fun... but if you did, that would be a good deal.
The cherry for me about this place is their Margaritas... unlike the Tommy Style found at El Burro - here they are the frozen variety with a slightly fruity twist in a proper Margarita glass - Mr Garcia's* grandfather's recipe. You'll want to serve them at your wedding.
The service is very happy-making. There's nothing like a foreign accent to captivate you. From the convoluted telephone booking to serenading at the table and the person who waved us out the door… all Mexican... from Mexico.
It’s not a big restaurant and there is no outside section (they are not open during the day) - but they manage to fit a lot of people in. This works well though and the big hombre brings out his equally large guitar every so often for a resounding version of a Mexican happy birthday. Forget about chatting to anyone at your table – this is more about shouting into each other’s ears and gesticulating at your margaritas. Enormous fun.
So… San Julian wins on hands-down the best Margaritas in Cape Town, cheesy nachos and raucous fun and El Burro wins on location (awesome balcony space), décor and their more extensive, familiar menu.
Which one would I go to? I’d alternate.
* San Julian is run by brothers Arturo and Ricardo Garcia who moved here from Mexico in 2010. Cool hey?
And if you don't think that either of these is the best Mexican in Cape Town then go and vote here.