With 7 outlets and 2 more about to open, Cali-Mex Taqueria California USA is making an aggressive assault on Hong Kong's F and B scene. Can the California style Mexican fast food chain win hearts?
Mexican restaurants come and go, but few have found lasting success in Hong Kong. Can Cali-Mex Taqueria California USA conquer a town that has yet to develop a taste for Mexican fare?
First, I've got to get a couple of things out of the way. This place is not cheap. As fast food restaurants go, Cali-Mex Taqueria is up there with Triple O's rather than McDonald's.
Second, this place serves California style Mexican food, not Tex-Mex, and there is an important difference between the two.
The Mexican food in California tends to be lighter – and fresher – than the Mexican food in Texas, which tends to be heavier and cheesier. I've also been told that the Mexican food in California is closer to the food in Mexico City.
Tex-Mex is great, but I prefer California style Mexican food. I grew up in California so what else would you expect?
This is what their promotional material has to say …
"The Cali-Mex story began with a road-trip from North America to Mexico," the chain's webpage says.
"We became obsessed with American-style Mexican food – burritos, tacos, nachos, and quesadillas – but our ultimate favourites were the light and fresh variety we found in the Golden State of California."
This sounds promising, but I am also I'm a bit confused.
How can you travel FROM North America TO Mexico when Mexico is IN North America? The last time I looked at my world map, Mexico was STILL north of the Panama Canal, and everything north of the Panama Canal forms part of the North American continent.
So much for the geography lesson …
Oh, well … Let's talk about the food …
The menu runs from tacos (soft or crispy) to burritos (or burrito bowls), quesadillas (full or half), saladas (crispy shell or naked), and nachos.
For fillings, there are three kinds of beef (original beef, Barbacoa beef, and Angus steak), 2 kinds of chicken (original and grilled), one kind of pork (Chipotle pulled pork), as well as 4 kinds of veggies, and 2 kinds of seafood (Baja fish and Fisherman's Wharf shrimp).
Burritos come with either black beans or refried pinto beans. You can choose 3 spice levels: salsa verde (mild), salsa Chipoltle (medium), or sala brava (spicy). You can add guacamole for HK$18.
I ordered 3 barbacoa beef tacos in crispy shells with guacamole with LOTS of salsa brava.
"I like it really HOT!" I pleaded.
OMG! Were those tacos delicious or what? In addition to a generous slathering of guacamole, there was also a thick lashing of sour cream.
Considering this was a fast food restaurant, I wasn't expecting Margaritas, but I was pleasantly surprised to see them on the menu.
I was even more surprised when I saw the Margarita machine, which I was told was imported from Mexico.
I had given up on frozen Margaritas in Hong Kong, because the ice tends to clump together in the middle of the glass. And then it starts to go watery.
These Margaritas come out with a perfect consistency, sort of like a slurpee, except smoother and creamier. And they stay that way right to the bitter end, never melting.
There are 2 flavours: lime and strawberry. There is also Mexican beer, soft drinks, Mexican jarritos, and coconut water.
A definite thumbs up!
Finally we have a Mexican restaurant that focuses on the food rather than the pretense. I loved the barbacoa beef tacos. I can't wait to systematically work my way through the menu.
As for the Margaritas, they quite possiblly were the best I've ever had.
My 3 tacos with guacamole and 3 for the price of 2 Margaritas (it was happy hour) came to HK$242 (US$32), which is a bit pricey for fast food.
But considering the quality, it was money well spent. I will definitely be going back.
Cali-Mex Taqueria California USA, 7 Lan Kwai FOng, Central. Telephone: (852) 2904 7855.
In addition to the outlet in Lan Kwai Fong, there are outlets in Central, Quarry Bay, Sheung Wan, SoHo, and Wanchai. Coming soon: outlets in Causeway Bay and Sai Ying Poon.
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