30 January 2010

Restaurant Review - Los Amates

Only a couple of days late...

We went to Los Amates on a Thursday night. Normally, one needs to book weeks in advance to get a table, but we got one with (in retrospect) suspicious ease when we rang to book Wednesday morning. This Melbourne Mexican mecca is popular with both uni students and melbourne foodies alike - the cheap but satisfying and (relatively) authentic food (I'm not quite sure how popular chorizo is in Mexico...) has become somewhat of an institution on the Johnston St Mexican Strip. So when my partner and and his sister and her husband and myself headed down there at 7 pm on Thursday, it's fair to say we did have some high expectations.

When we arrived, a series of three (rather ominously) harried looking waitstaff tried to take our drinks orders in quick succession. While my margarita was not so quick off the mark as the beers and bloody tequila ordered by the rest of our party, it arrived and (one brain freeze later) was happily consumed. Margaritas at Los Amates are serious value at $12.50 for a very large lemony slushy full of tequila goodness, with the appropriate lime and salt accoutrements.

We shared an entree - guacamole with chicharrĂ³ns. On hearing the description of chicharrĂ³ns, you may think it is the most unappetizing dish in the world - it's deep fried pork fat - but I promise you, it's a) delicious, and b) thoroughly authentic. Don't get too attached to your arteries when you eat it, though. It's like a salty baconny prawn cracker - it fluffs up in the fryer and becomes all puffy and delicate. Delicious. You don't get many cracklings - but when you think about what they are (i.e. pure fat) you will realise that it is probably better all round that way.

We were so distracted by the deep fried goodness that we failed to notice that the presence of the waitstaff had gone from flustered but attentive to none whatsoever. After 20 minutes, we thought it was nice of the waitstaff to let us talk amongst ourselves. After an hour and no sight of our mains, we were starting to get a bit hungry, and the mollifying effects of the margarita was starting to wear off. The wait staff were very good and apologized - as did the owner - which made us appreciate what a worthwhile place this is to visit - but it didn't change the fact that we were hungry. Turns out there was a rather large table in the back, which turned out to be slightly more than the relatively small kitchen could cope with. So when we (finally) got our tacos around 8.15 pm, we were very much ready to eat.

I dove head first into my tacos al pastor, not realizing that the waitstaff knew how hungry we were, and had taken the meals out as soon as humanly possible - so quickly in fact that a) they hadn't made sure we were getting the appropriate amount of tacos, and b) that the fillings were rather hotter than anticipated. When I say hotter, I mean temperature wise (although I'll get to the salsa in a minute) - the result of which was a giant blister on the roof of my mouth (that still hasn't healed). Just goes to show it's fresh, I suppose!

One the steam had cleared and the meal cooled to palatable temperatures, we could really get going. I ordered the Tacos al Pastor (tender pork); my partner had tacos with beef and chorizo; and my partner's sister and her husband shared the value meal - tacos with beef and chorizo, lamb and shredded pork. As usual, once they had cooled, my tacos al pastor were tender and juicy, with the sharp, sweet pineapple contrasting well with the unctuous pork. Not being a raw onion or cilantro fan, I left those on the side. I braved a little of the salsa - apparently, this dish tends to be ordered by serious fans of Mexican food, not first time wimps, the result of which is it is served with a salsa that could probably dissolve your tongue. A drop or two is delicious, but any more pretty much sets your mouth on fire. The other dishes were served with salsa verde or pica de gallo - much more palatable for a chilli wimp like myself. The beef and chorizo tacos were lovely (provided you got enough chorizo - the beef was a bit bland on its own); the yucatan shredded pork tacos were popular; but the lamb was a bit grey and bland. We went a bit short on tacos, too - but that was because the freshly made, soft white corn tacos were so damn yummy that we couldn't help but want more. We also had some rather unmemorable frijoles (refried beans) - these were a bit bland and probably not worth getting again.

All in all, a very enjoyable night out. A bit slow to get our meals, but delicious.

Service = 3/5. Very slow to get our mains (but this was acknowledged) but otherwise friendly and efficient.
Ambience = 3/5. It's a bit crowded and the tables are very close together. It looks like a paint can or two exploded in there - crazy colours and patterns everywhere. I know that's the Mexican tradition, but still...
Value = 3.5/5. We spend $150 on a meal for 4, including booze. Although we felt a bit short changed in the taco department, overall you won't find better value Mexican in the city.
Taste = 4.5/5. The best Mexican I've found in Australia. Although one or two dishes fell a bit flat on the night, most of the food - and even the garnishes - were delicious (apart from being a bit hot!)

Overall = 14/20. If you can get a booking, go. A Fitzroy institution for a reason.

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