I noticed El Mexsal during my drive home from work one day last week. I had passed by it so many times, but had never really considered what it would be like to eat there until that moment. With my new goal to visit every restaurant in Provo, I knew I would end up there eventually. I just didn’t know when. As it turned out, I paid a visit to El Mexsal that very weekend.
El Mexsal is advertised as serving authentic Mexican and Salvadoran food. I’ll be honest. I don’t know what that really means, but I bet most people are in the same way (whether or not they admit it). I’ve never been to Mexico, I’ve never been to El Salvador, and while I’ve eaten Mexican food at many restaurants (and rely on other people to tell me what is and is not authentic) I’ve never had Salvadoran food in my life.
I didn’t really know what to expect when visiting El Mexsal, so I expected the worst and hoped for the best. My experience was closest to the best.
When we entered, I wasn’t quite sure what we were supposed to do. The restaurant was full of open tables, and while a few customers did start at the strange newcomers, we couldn’t tell if any servers were around to acknowledge our presence. About the time we decided to just go ahead and pick a table of our own, a young lady appeared from the back to usher us to the table of our choosing and provide us with chips, salsa, and menus. The salsa was fairly watery, but pretty good.
Once we got situated I started to really pay attention to the atmosphere. Most of the tables were open, cafeteria-style tables that looked perfect for families and large groups, while one section of the restaurant was devoted to booths for more intimate groups. Seeing the variety of groups that came in, I think this arrangement worked quite well. The walls were decorated to look like a building I could imagine down in Mexico, with themed accent pieces all around. The ceiling was a typical, boring ceiling with the benefit of the occasional dried pepper decoration. There was a soccer game playing on the two televisions, and a bottle of Tapatio on every table. It seemed pretty authentic so far.
The lady who took our order was very patient with us as we tried to figure out what would give us the best Mexican/Salvadoran food experience. The menu was quite extensive, with your typical taco/enchilada/tamale/chile relleno/taquito/burrito/tostada combinaton plates that seemed to come in endless varieties, as well as specialty dishes like huevos, camarones, mojarras, pupusas, seafood, soups, salads, and more. If you don’t know Spanish food words, you’ll have to be will to ask what the specialty dishes are, but all the combination plates are translated into English as well. We ended up getting 3 pupusas, a pork tostada, 3 beef taquitos, and some (h)orchata.
We didn’t have to wait long for the food to be ready. As I’m used to with many authentic Mexican food restaurants, the food came out as it was ready. First came the pupusas, then the taquitos, then the tostada. At some point the server brought us a jar of what looked like pickled cabbage, carrots, onions, and peppers. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I started dishing some out to eat along with the food. It actually tasted quite good along with the pupusas, and sure enough, later one I saw a group on the other side of the restaurant go through half the jar on their order of pupusas. Turns out it’s called curtido and that’s what it’s for. Imagine that.
As the food goes, I’d say it was pretty good. The pupusas were hit and miss. We ordered 3 different kinds, and while 2 of them seemed kinda bland, 1 was rather tasty. I bet if I had figured out the curtido sooner they would have been the highlight of the meal. The taquitos were standard. The beans and rice were standard. I was, however, impressed with the tostada, especially since I was quite full by the time I got around to trying it. The (h)orchata . . . I’m not usually a fan, but I would definitely order another glass if I go back. It was quite good.
Pros: Good food adventure, without taking a huge risk. At least something on the menu you’re bound to enjoy eating.
Cons: Unless you stray from the standard fare, it’s going to be “just another Mexican place”.