If you’re expecting the Mexican food you’re used to eating here in Cape Town, you’ll be disappointed. What we are accustomed to is referred to by Americans as Texmex, a bastardisation of Mexican food to make it more appealing to the junk food generation. What San Julian serves is real Mexican food as eaten by real Mexicans in the real Mexico.
The family moved to Cape Town from Mexico a few months ago and opened San Julian, named after the town from which their grandparents hail. You might want to bring out your rusty Spanish because their English is still a bit sketchy but good enough to handle your orders, especially as the menu is quite basic.
At the bottom of the menu it says that their food is made according to Slow Food principles (read more about the Slow Food movement here). They say this because they make everything themselves. They buy corn and grind it down to make the tortillas, tacos, etc. This is quite a process, but the difference between what they serve and what you are accustomed to eating is so vast.
The food is much lighter and healthier than the oily ‘chilli con carne’ we count as Mexican food.To start, our table of four ordered a plate of nachos to share. The corn chips are handmade, as are the sauces (cheese and bean). The salsa and guacamole are made fresh to order.
I had the quesadilla mixta (R70 or R35 for a half portion) which has cheese and beef between a corn tortilla. The beef is diced beef not mince, and it comes with some handmade salsa and a rammekin of beans. One person had the quesadilla sencilla (R43/R25) which is the vegetarian version of what I had. The last dish we tried was the tacos dorados (R70) which is the hard taco shell filled with chicken and potato and salad stuff.
I did neglect to look at the wine list, I must admit (but I can guarantee that it will be inexpensive and probably quite short). We just drank Corona the whole night and ended off with a ‘conyo’ which is a special way of drinking tequila. It’s very unique, you must try it. We were also treated to a song by the owner who plays the guitar (do we call him el mariachi?). He’s great and it’s amazing what a vibe it creates having someone singing original Mexican folk music (very well, I might add).
So here’s the rub: San Julian is not a fancy restaurant, with great service and fine food. It’s actually a very small and simply decorated restaurant, with the family members doing the cooking, serving and entertaining. The food is simple and fairly plain, but inexpensive. However, these are the very things that make the restuarant endearing. It’s authentic Mexican food, made by hand from scratch. The food is made and served with pride and love. It’s like being invited into someone’s home.
With 20 people you could take over the whole restaurant and have and absolute jol, drinking conyos, dancing to Mexican folk music and eating quality food. Alternatively, you could go there for a quick, inexpensive meal with your partner and enjoy the relaxed, pretence free, homely environment.
Either way, it’s worth checking out. Eso es la verdad!
Shop 3 & 4, State House Building
Rose Street, Greenpoint
Tel: 021 419 4233