This past weekend, I hitched a ride with my parents down to Memphis, TN (and surrounding suburbs) to visit with some family members that I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. This area used to be my teenage-days stomping grounds, from middle school until my senior year in high school, when we moved back to Columbus. I was excited to see my family, but also excited to see the area and how it has changed since I was a kid. As is always the case prior to a road trip, I did a little online research on some of the area eateries, and I had a few places in mind that I thought might be cool to check out, for breakfast and otherwise. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hit up nearly as many places as I had hoped (darn you, family time!! j/k), but my next few blog posts will feature some of the spots we dined at while we were there.
We arrived at our hotel after the long 10-hour drive just as dinner-time was approaching, and had to make a decision on where we would grab some grub. Conveniently, there was a restaurant that shares the same parking lot as our hotel, so we decided this would be the best solution to our hunger problems. El Mezcal is a local restaurant chain, with several locations in the Memphis area. There were no frills or gimmicks outside, so I liked it already. Simple, strait-forward “Mexican Restaurant” signage let us know exactly what to expect inside.
The interior of El Mezcal is pretty comfortable, but not nearly as “ethnic” as many of your typical Mexican restaurants are. There was no distinguishing wall art, no sombreros, no Hispanic music. It was really quite “Applebee’s-ish” in appearance. It could have honestly been any casual family dining place in any suburb. There were a few branded t-shirts hanging over the bar, but that’s it. That being said, El Mezcal was extremely clean and comfy.
El Mezcal’s menu was really large. Five or six plastic-covered pages detailed their appetizers, specialties, combos, drinks, salads, and more. They serve a lot of your standard, “Americanized” Tex-Mex favorites, as well as some authentic dishes too. Our meal started with the usual complimentary chips and salsa, both of which were really fresh and yummy.
I ordered the Special Dinner ($10.50), which came out on two huge plates. The meal consisted of a Chalupa, chili relleno, an enchilada, a taco, a burrito, Mexican rice and fried beans. Everything was pretty tasty, but my favorite component was the chili relleno, which could have been truly amazing with the addition of a spicy/smoky chili sauce or something similar. The beef, which was featured in all of the major components of the dish, was seasoned really well. Beans and rice were good, too.
Here’s a shot of the Pollo Noricno ($11.50), which came out on a sizzling hot skillet. It was composed of a grilled chicken breast with plump, grilled shrimp, served with grilled onions and pineapple, and came with three flour tortillas. I tasted the shrimp and chicken together, and both were tender and delicious. I liked the grilled flavors and textures of this dish.
My pops went with his Mexican restaurant stand-by, the Carnitas Dinner ($10.50). El Mezcal’s version was a huge pile of shredded and coarsely chopped pork, which was roasted with onions and seasonings, and was presented with three flour tortillas, as well as rice and beans. These carnitas were sooo good!! Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, a HUGE portion. I would go back for this!
Finally, here’s a shot of the Burrito Veloz ($7.50). I actually ate this burrito on our last night in Tennessee, after we returned to our hotel from a full day of family activity. The others opted to skip dinner, so I walked over to El Mezcal and ordered this bad boy to go and ate it back in the room. Because of this, presentation might be a little skewed, but the flavor was still solid. It was a big, 10-inch flour tortilla filled with shredded chicken (or I could have had beef), pico de gallo, jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes. It was topped with a creamy, but slightly thin queso sauce, and sour cream. Pretty much what you would expect. Nothing out of the ordinary, but enjoyable and filling.
Wisely, El Mezcal features a nice bar to stay competitive with the happy hour crowd, but also plays to business people who might be in town and staying at the hotel less than fifty yards away. I didn’t get a chance to visit the bar to check out their drafts, but it looked as though they did a good drink business based off of the folks sitting there while we visited.
The old adage of “Location, location, location!” holds true for this El Mezcal restaurant (I’ve never visited the other locations so I can comment on their whereabouts). It doesn’t hurt that they’re so close to a major hotel chain, but honestly it’s their food that will keep people coming back (it did me). Everything we had was pretty tasty, and the portions were big.
We were off to a good start, food-wise, on our trip to the Mid-South. Stay tuned in the next several days for more Southern eats…including upcoming reviews of a Memphis breakfast institution and an old school donut shop!!