Last night, my girlfriend and I went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant we’d never tried before. Naturally, the first thing I did when we got there was texted my brother. Because I’m such an attentive date! And also, he’s got this rule pertaining to Mexican restaurants that I have found surprisingly accurate. There are subtle variations, though, and I needed his input.
We didn’t even know the name of the place, to be honest. My girlfriend (GF from now on. For Gloriously Feminine. Or Genuinely Funny. Or…well, it’s gotta stand for something else too, but I’m drawing a blank at the moment) knew it as “that place with lots of neon,” so for a second or two I got excited, thinking I might hit it big at blackjack until I realized that we were in Portland, Oregon and not Las Vegas. She added hopefully, “It might still be good, though.”
“Neon has nothing to do with the quality of a restaurant’s food,” I said. “Remember my brother’s rule when it comes to Mexican restaurants?”
My Brother’s Rule is quite simple: if a Mexican restaurant has a sombrero hanging on the wall, the food will be crap.
I don’t know why this is the case. Maybe it’s because that kind of tacky decor is a white person’s idea of what a Mexican restaurant should look like, and if the joint is run by gringos, then the food will be marginal at best. Whatever the case, My Brother’s Rule has proven itself eerily prescient since I first heard him utter those words. Mind you, it’s okay if the place has a sombrero in it somewhere, it just can’t be hanging from the wall. Case in point: we were in Fresno for a wedding last year (because why else would you go to Fresno? People pass through Fresno but they don’t go to Fresno unless they are
forced to at gunpoint have a really good reason), and decided to check out a local Mexican place called Bobby Salazar’s. I’d done research beforehand, and this small chain of restaurants in Fresno had gotten positive Yelp and Citysearch reviews, so I figured their food would be decent. The moment we stepped inside, though, my brother paused and said, “Uh-oh.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“There’s a sombrero,” he said. “But we might be in luck. It’s sitting on a cabinet.”
That’s when he explained his whole Sombrero Rule to me. The food turned out to be delicious, by the way, which just goes to show that there are subtle variations as to the placement of the sombrero that can totally affect the outcome of your dining experience.
Which is why, when GF and I walked inside last night and were seated at our table, I whipped out my cell phone.
Hey, I texted him. We’re in a new Mexican restaurant and there’s a small paper sombrero hanging from the ceiling. Will the food be good?
Bad sign, he responded.
I replied that the wait staff and cashiers were Latino (at the risk of offending anybody – hey, my kids are part-Hispanic anyway, so I’m down with the culture and the people), which one would expect anyway, but, Remember, this is Oregon.
Is the salsa good? he asked.
The salsa was good, I said. And the cadillac margarita I was sipping was also a winner (though GF’s margarita came with a little paper umbrella, which was almost reason enough to get up and walk out).
My brother’s final consensus was that the food would be good. The sombrero, after all, was a small paper one – kind of like a party decoration – and hanging from the ceiling, rather than a hook on the wall. And, as it turns out, he was correct, once again. My carne asada, which was the house specialty (our waiter, who was quite the character, actually said “attaboy” when I ordered it), was delicious, and GF really liked her enchiladas suizas, too. Our meal even included dessert – a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with strawberry and chocolate sauce and accompanied by a crispy, cinnamon-coated fried tortilla chip that was muy bueno. All in all, we were quite pleased, and will surely return someday. That little paper umbrella even proved its worth, as it was pouring rain when we left and I opened it up and held it above my head as we walked across the parking lot to her car.
Ever the comedian, I am.
As infallible as my brother’s Sombrero Rule is, I think there are other, similar rules one can apply to restaurants. Like, for instance:
- Pizza restaurants with A) animatronic or costumed mice, B) video games, or C) both should be avoided at all costs. Unless you are feeding 6-year-olds who don’t give a damn about cardboard crust. Which, let’s face it, if you’re in a place like that, you probably are. Or you’re a pedophile. Newsflash: the pizza there probably tastes a whole lot better than prison food.
- Japanese restaurants that advertise fried rice on the menu. Or, conversely, Chinese restaurants that serve teriyaki. These are two separate and distinct cultures, and combining their cuisine is like listening to some horrible mash-up. Think Madonna and Led Zeppelin, “Stairway To A Virgin.”
- Casual dining chains with an overabundance of kitschy, faux-antique decorations nailed to the walls and spilling from the shelves. Things like “vintage” highway signs (usually something to do with Route 66) and Elvis Presley album covers. In my experience, these places overspend on decor and underspend on chefs who can actually cook, and servers who can serve.
Are there any similar “restaurant rules” that you follow? Warning signs that make you think twice before eating someplace?