24409 Lorain Ave.
I wanted to like the salsa, I truly did. It had a loose end of cilantro floating atop, it smelled sweet, looked spicy, perhaps chunky too! Yet when I dipped my first nacho into the bowl I met none of the resistance of tomatoes or onions or herbs I expected, and was left swirling my hand in a void of sauce! I tasted it. Then I re-tasted it, in disbelief. No! Why me?!
My long nightmarish journey into Mexican food in Ohio had begun a few years ago, but I was depending on Nuevo Acapulco in North Olmsted to perhaps prove me wrong and remind me of the glorious comfort of hot Mexican food, which holds many of the happiest moments of my life.
On first view, the place looked intensely promising. There was a grilled smell floating around the room, a raucous bar, lots of drunk Mexicans, and a 20 minute wait at 5:30 on a Friday. The dining room is gaudy beyond belief, with neon murals, strung-up paper mache parrots, and all the Mexican kitsch you could dream of. Yet my favorite Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia (La Lupe) has the same style of decorations and a repeating 10-minute tape of terrible Mariachi music, and so I have come to associate gaudiness with authenticity, a dangerous mistake on this night.
After the tepid salsa and the cold nacho chips, we dug into a cheese dip that tasted like it might have been emptied from a Tostito’s jar of salsa con queso, except even more plasticky and slimy. Supposedly flavored with cilantro, other herbs, and peppers, it had only a chemical spiciness without any flavor that could be deemed natural.
At this point the smiles at our table started to wain, and we all began to worry about the next course. I had ordered the chicken mole, because it is one of my favorite dishes and one of the most often varied at Mexican restaurants, due to the strange and unique flavors of its composition, a deep and robust combination of chocolate and peppers.
The mole at Nuevo Acapulco was an unattractive viscous light brown, unlike the dark and thick sauces I have usually encountered. As I prodded the chicken (sliced into tenders for my ease?) I noticed a film forming on top of the sauce. I secretly hoped this was a harbinger of promise, as the restaurant may have chosen to use more fat and not skimp on flavor. But as I took my first bite my face twinged in abject disappointment. This mole tasted like a cross between melted chocolate and motor oil. There was no glorious mixture of flavors, but instead an off-kilter sickliness that is still giving me shivers. After another try brought along a moment of nausea, I set about wiping dry the remaining pieces on my plate.
As for the other items, the refried beans tasted like they were from a can, and cold as well. The rice was ordinary and bland. Enchiladas tasted like poor-quality ground beef smothered in canned tomato sauce with a splash of taco seasoning. The steak al chipolte was overcooked and tough, and the overpowering sauce bore an unseemly resemblance to a watered-down version of Campus Dining Services’ chipotle mayo. The margaritas tasted like they had come from a mix and delivered intensely skimpy amounts of alcohol for the price of more than five dollars.
To rub it in, Nuevo Acapulco served us a “fried” ice cream that was nothing more than a rock-hard ball of ice cream sprinkled with some sort of fried particles. At least they chose to include a few splashes of nutmeg, it was probably the first spice I had tasted all night.
Nuevo Acapulco was a terrible restaurant from start to finish. It left me and my friends feeling used and dirty, as we were delivered food that was clearly not fresh, not creative, and not authentic. Yet it is worth noting that people did genuinely seem to like the place. What did we miss? The grilled meats, perhaps? Or does this sort of flavorless bland reproduction of Mexican food somehow appeal to Ohios? Oh the humanity! The idea that you can somehow combine mere ingredients without any subtlety of flavor or care for freshness and call it “Mexican” is dangerous, offensive, and insulting.
As it came time to pay, I imagined what my 18 dollars could have purchased at La Lupe. Freshly-made corn tacos dripping with queso, or roasted pork al castor, barbaco goat with pineapple, staggeringly flavorful chorizo, fried plantains, chicken mole, and even a soda, and I probably wouldn’t even have made it to 15 dollars. And then, amidst my revery, I realized I was still in North Olmsted and started to cry.
Nightmarishly bad food, that I am still trying to forget.