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The good news is that now there are at least four or five places to eat Mexican food in Beijing (not at Amigos, though, it just closed.) The bad news are that none of them is stellar. Why is that? Lack of competition? Lack of a demanding consumer base?
As one demanding consumer, I say: Beijing needs better Mexican food!
I guess you might say that no, the reason you love Beijing is that it is far away from Mexican food and similar pernicious cultural dilutions. But I say that ship has sailed, and there are already Mexican restaurants. Since they exist, they might as well not suck.
But you’re reading this post to find out where you should eat Mexican food in Sanlitun, and now I can tell you: it’s Luga’s. By a mile.
The reasons were pretty simple – price, atmosphere and flavour were all better there compared with the Saddle Cantina.
At the Saddle Cantina, we ate:
Soft tacos with carnitas, and a margarita. (Unphotographed was a chicken tortilla). The carnitas were identifiably carnitas, but that was the only thing worth saying about them. The tacos were inexpertly stuffed, and were hard to eat, the salsa didn’t taste very good. Covering them with Tabasco was the only way to make them even slightly interesting. And the margarita was way oversalted – it was a chore to drink. The two items cost 105 RMB.
Afterward, at Luga’s: a caipirinha, nachos, and chicken burrito:
The caipirinha was excellent, as were the nachos: very nicely cheesy (with two layers of cheese!) and pretty spicy. The burrito could have used some improvement, it wasn’t as flavourful as it should have been. However: all of this cost half as much as at the Saddle. A clear winner! Quite amazing for a place whose menu is half Vietnamese.
7 Sanlitun Beijie
Open 10 a.m. – 3 a.m.
The Saddle Cantina
Nali Patio, 81 Sanlitun Beijie
Open 11 a.m. – 3 a.m.
Area: Chaoyang (just north of Sanlitun, in the embassy area)
Price: 50-100 RMB per person
If you’re Malaysian or Singaporean and homesick, you will love this place. If you’ve ever been to Malaysia/Singapore and loved it, you will love this place. If you’ve never been to either Malaysia or Singapore but want to try a new, and delicious, cuisine, you will love this place! What I’m trying to say here is that Lau Pa Sak is terrific and everyone should go.
There aren’t enough restaurants like it in Beijing. Lau Pa Sak’s food is authentic and good. The menu is reasonably priced and there’s delivery/takeout. The service is unobtrusive and helpful, even to those without perfect Chinese. What’s more, there’s that atmosphere that, to me, marks out a truly good restaurant: a sense that this place makes people happy, that people come back often.
One of the best things I know to do on a Saturday morning in Beijing is to haul myself over to Lau Pa Sak and wake up slowly over a soothing cup of coffee with condensed milk:
The kaya toast (see photo at top of post) is delicious as well – if you don’t know, kaya is a spread made of coconut and eggs, and is served on bread with butter.
The larger dishes are good as well; while other Singaporean/Malay places in town can overdo it on the spices or belacan (I’m looking at you, Cafe Sambal), Lau Pa Sak’s dishes are always beautifully balanced. The dishes here are rarely very spicy, but if you love chili you can always ask.
The laksa is very tasty. True, there is only one kind, and it’s a very basic curry laksa. But it’s delicious – the broth is chicken, coconut, and a little curry, the wheat noodles have a nice bite, and the fish balls, cucumber and tofu toppings are all fresh and good.
On my photo-taking visit, I didn’t order the chicken rice, but trust me, it’s very good. The sauce could have used a bit more heat, and didn’t seem that fresh. But the dish was fundamentally right, and reminded me of many chicken rices I ate in Singapore. The curry puffs could also have been a little fresher, but were nicely spicy and packed full of potatoes.
Another great dish is the fried carrot cake. If you’re a fan of turnip cake at dim sum, then give this a try. The sauce, made with sambal belacan, eggs, and onions, combines with the rich and fatty cake beautifully. However, if you can’t stomach grease or you’re only one or two people, better avoid this – one serving is incredibly rich.
Lau Pa Sak 老巴刹
Xindong Lu (opposite Canadian Embassy), Chaoyang District
Open 11:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Phone: 6417 0952
For delivery: Isender