Review: Nuevo Acapulco
I wanted to like the salsa, I truly did. It had a loose end of cilantro floating on top; it smelled sweet, looked spicy and 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 as 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 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 and a 20-minute wait at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday. The dining room is gaudy beyond belief, with neon murals, strung-up paper-maiche parrots and all the Mexican kitsch you could dream of. Now, my favorite Mexican restaurant in Philadelphia (La Lupe) has the same style of decorations and a repeating ten-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 plastic-y and slimy. Supposedly flavored with cilantro, other herbs and peppers, it offered only a chemical spiciness without any flavor that could be deemed natural.
At this point, the smiles at our table had started to wane, 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 most often varies among Mexican restaurants, due to the strange and unique flavors of its composition, a deep and robust combination of chocolate and hot peppers.
The mole at Nuevo Acapulco was unattractive, viscous and 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. Another try brought along a moment of nausea, and I set about wiping dry the remaining pieces on my plate.
As for the other items, the cold, refried beans tasted like they were from a can. The rice was ordinary and bland. The enchiladas tasted like poor quality ground beef smothered in canned tomato sauce with a splash of taco seasoning. The steak al chipotle 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 a price over 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 crumbs. At least they chose to include a few splashes of nutmeg, which was probably the first spice I had tasted all night.
Nuevo Acapulco was a terrible restaurant from start to finish. It left me, as well as my friends, feeling dirty and used, 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 Ohioans? 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, barbacoa goat with pineapple, staggeringly flavorful chorizo, fried plantains, chicken mole and even a jarrito soda, and I probably wouldn’t even have made it to 15 dollars.
And then, amidst my revelry, I realized I was still in North Olmsted and started to cry.
Nightmarishly bad food that I am still trying to forget.