Having spent the last few weeks dealing with the jumped-up ego of a chef being exceptionally aggressive in my inbox, it’s frankly a welcome relief to find myself sat in the most unassuming of spaces, elbows deep on plastic table clothes, watching a Mexican lady make salsa with a pestle and mortar at the rear of the room. Up front a tall, smiling man introduces himself and his restaurant: this is traditional Mexican with regional recipes from just outside Acapulco, so don’t expect Tex-Mex, and the meats are typically not spicy, but if you want heat the wife makes twenty-one salsas from mild all the way to ‘911’. The mere mention of 911 draws quiet laughter from the wife and daughter in the back. I’m guessing they are not talking about the 90’s boyband.
I knew it was special the second the food arrives. The fried tortilla chips – nachos if you really must – are greaseless vehicles for salsas and the best guacamole I’ve ever eaten. Made mere minutes before it arrives at the table, the guacamole is rustic in texture, with a hint of chilli and a lot of lime. It’s fresh and bright. Just incredible. We ask for two salsas; one hot, which should be bottled and stored in every home, and another a smokey, beguiling blend of chillies, vinegar, and tomato that sits around medium. Being an arse, I mention two salsas not commonly known in the UK. They both arrive. Both are superior to the versions I ate on my little jaunt around Central America.
They have a special of conchinita pibil on which we order. A huge cut of pork marinaded for an age, usually cooked in the ground, though here wrapped in banana leaf and left on the lowest temperature possible to slowly cook from some point the day prior. The meat is sweet and delicate, the layers of fat reduced to a loose piggy jelly. It’s tear inducingly wonderful, piled heavily onto delicate tortilla and adorned with pickled onion and a lime wedge. A similar story with the achiote chicken, earthy, floral, and slightly bitter, sat on greaseless tostados. Nine quid buys you three each of these. I’m struggling to think of anywhere I want to spend nine pound on more.
By now we’re stuffed. Roll me home and prick me with a fork stuffed. No room for a slice of the cakes they make, no room for any other of the rest of the menu I’m desperate to try. The bill for the above with five soft drinks is £36, though I will personally be doubling that when the alcohol license is approved. Two things I should mention before I sign off: first, the boring part; they close at 8pm due to the little space being a part of a department store. Secondly, a very well travelled friend of mine messaged me after my visit. It turns out he goes all the time, because A La Mexicana is in his words the best home style Mexican in the UK; a bold statement and one that I can’t back up. What I do know is that I started the blog for places like this, to find the stars of the city, who cook with heart in an uncompromising style. I haven’t stopped talking about it since. A La Mexicana might just be my favourite restaurant in Birmingham.