With its claims to multiculturalism and the fact that a milieu of nationalities lives here, one would expect that Islamabad would have restaurants that cater to all sorts of tastes and feature all sorts of cuisines.
Indeed, apart from the staple Chinese and Italian food outlets, the capital palette has grown to include tastes from Lebanese, Thai, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, Portuguese, French, Indian, Central Asian and Mediterranean. Outlets catering to all sorts of tastes now operate in nearly every part of the city.
However, there is one type of food that the capital’s cooks have not been able to quite get right – Mexican.
Despite its similarities with the spice count of our local foods, the city has never seen a good Mexican food outlet. In the recent past, we saw ‘Loco Amigos’ and ‘Salsa’ both closed down soon after opening, ostensibly for a lack of demand.
Currently there are only two Mexican food outlets in the city, and one of them is ‘Burismos’. In spite of its elaborate menu and wide variety from burritos, nachos, chimichangas and quesadillas, the restaurant does not carry that signature Mexican dish – tacos! This, for many, is a let down since tacos are perhaps the most iconic food to come out of Mexico.
This is where ‘Taco El Paso’ comes in. Having recently opened its doors to the public at the Safa Gold Mall in Sector F-7’s Jinnah Super Market, the outlet is franchised from a Karachi eatery of the same name.
Shahid Karim, who runs the restaurant here, told Dawn that he wanted to capture a niche market and decided to venture towards a cuisine that was yet to be explored in the city.
“We wanted to do something different and get away from the regular chicken and burgers that you get at every second restaurant,” said Karim.
“Most of our ingredients, such as the nachos, cheese and the spices, are imported to ensure authentic Mexican flavour, while the vegetables are locally sourced and the tortilla bread is made by our chefs,” the restaurateur boasts.
Taco El Paso offers a variety of dishes: nachos, tacos, chalupas, burritos, quesadillas, fajitas and wraps. But here too, the menu is missing some popular items such as chimichangas and enchiladas.
Karim says the restaurant is still in its “beta-testing” phase and plans to expand it and the menu over time.
The great thing about the menu, itself, is that there are pictures of every item, so you can have an idea of what you are going to get before you place your order.
For anyone who is new to the cuisine, tacos are a must try. Consider them a rite of passage on your way to exploring Mexican cuisine. Tacos are made with corn or wheat tortillas, which are folded around a filling. There are many different types of tacos around the world, since you can play with the fillings and the type of bread.
Here, the tacos are the cheapest thing on the menu. You can choose between a soft and a crunchy tortilla shell, and you can decide whether you want beef or chicken. The food is quite appetising; the shells are fresh, as are the vegetables and the filling. Mind you, tacos are generally hard to handle, so do not attempt to eat them with a knife and a fork!
The burritos are not extraordinary. Despite the fresh bread and clean presentation, the filling is not up to the mark. For anyone who has had burritos before, you will instantly feel the strong semblance with a shawarma rather than a burrito.
Nonetheless, the restaurant offers four different types of burritos, including a vegetarian one, so you can choose the flavour that suits you the best.
The best items on the menu are the wraps, which again come in two varieties – crunchy and otherwise. The wraps form a perfect combination of spices, vegetables, cheese and meat. This is one thing that you will end up longing for more.
For salad cravers, Taco El Paso offers a grilled chicken salad served in a tortilla bowl, which can be eaten – yes, that is right, you can eat the bowl!
No Mexican meal is complete without a side serving of a sauce. The generic ones are sour cream and salsa, but here you can also try nacho cheese and guacamole.
“I have been around the food court, and this place caught my attention. The menu is very different from what most other places have to offer,” said Ali, an undergraduate student, who was ravishing a grilled steak wrap, “The wraps are really good, I love Mexican cuisine and I think this is at par with a lot of good brands that I have had around the world.”
Meanwhile, Tania, who works as a marketing manager, was not too pleased with the tacos. In her opinion, they were a little dry.
“I was hoping they would give a free sideline of rice and beans, which are usually common with Mexican food,” Tania said, before making her way towards her table.
Despite its ups and downs, Taco El Paso is unique and offers an opportunity for foodies to sample Mexican flavour in the comfort of their own city.
Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2014