A new Mexican restaurant and bar has moved in to Wudaoying Hutong, in among the 9,000 cafes and canvass clothing boutiques that call the lane way home. They're serving "Hearty Yet Cute Mexican Taste!"
It's called Mex Max and it looks like this:
About 12 tables are split up into three small dining and drinking areas, with the main space an enclosed corridor with a pretty snazzy skylight. It's a really unique little restaurant. The main design point, of course, the 20-odd foot fresco reaching up to said skylight. Doesn't really say "hearty, cute Mexican food" to me, but it's a pretty stunning piece of art nonetheless. Very nice. The rest of the place is the bar area on the one side of this loggia-type space, and general seating on the other.
Food is strictly entry-level Mexican. Mexican 101. Mexican food geared to people new to the cuisine and looking for an in-roads experience on the basic tenets: tacos, quesadillas, fajias, the end. The simple menu breaks down as follows: chips and salsa, soup, salads; a couple types of fajitas; a couple quesadillas; a couple tacos; and dessert.
For lunch we did a quick tour of their offerings, grazing around to the starred items in every category....
Tortilla Chips + Smoke Duck Chest Napoleon (45rmb)
By way of tapas-ish starters, here's a duck breast plus guac on tortilla chips. Interesting, I guess? Guess it's pretty creative? The guac was alright but the meat tasted a bit gnarly. Four portions for 45rmb. Dunno.
Chicken quesadilla (48rmb)
A pretty tasty and very basic rendition of your classic chicken quesadillas. Not all that substantial but tasty nonetheless. Nice for a snack.
Fish Tacos (42rmb)
Hard-shell fish tacos with cheddar cheese, jalapenos, onions and peppers, a dollop of sour cream, and plants. Pretty decent. Nice, fresh... um "cute" taste.
A more substantial main, with the fajitas. Beef, onion, and peppers, with a DIY side of cheddar, sour cream, and jalapenos. Pretty decent. Nothing too earth-shattering, but like the rest of these dishes, the ingredients were good quality and fresh.
All-in, not a bad experience. But a pretty unremarkable one. Everything was decent enough but not all that dissimilar to if someone who knows some kitchen basics put together a home-made Mexican meal on their own after a trip to the imported goods supermarket. Like I know which aisle this stuff came from. So that takes away from the experience of it, when you know exactly what's being done.
Think I've been to this birthday party before. Several times. Every year at my house from ages 6 to 17. But, yeah that's fine...
Booze. They're advertising a "bartender with flare" during the evenings but we went for lunch and missed him, so we can't really speak to how deep the drinks go when the pro is on duty. But the menu is as standard as you can get. With a few house-specific cocktails in the mix.
This is the Mex Max Ice Tea. It was boozy, boozy, boozy but pretty overpriced at 68rmb.
The Take-Away: Well, it's not unseating The Taco Bar anytime soon for quality tacos, or Mas for that matter. And big groups of friends are probably better off down the lane at Sand Pebbles for a nice, big satisfying Mexican meal with more options, but Mex Max does have a few things going for it: It's a really nice-looking place. It's hip. It's intimate. It would be great for dates. And the food is alright, even though lacking in depth.
There are definitely far, far worse places for Mexican cuisine in town. Here's to hoping they develop the menu further...
Mex Max is at 60 Wudaoying Hutong.