Many years ago, Billy Connolly joked that Mexican food was all the same thing just wrapped differently, and until fairly recently I was probably of the same opinion. However after trying out some of the latest Mexican restaurants and takeaways that have opened in Glasgow, maybe my mind has been changed to see Mexican food in a very different light.
Earlier in the year I was fortunate enough to be invited to a launch night at Topolabamba on St Vincent Street in the Glasgow's city centre and had a fantastic night working my way through some of the tapas style dishes that they serve up. More recently, I was invited along to the latest branch of Taco Mazama Mexican Kitchen, a growing chain of Mexican fast food outlets.
I was aware of Taco Mazama from the whiffs of spicy food that I would get as I walked by the door of the Renfield Street branch on my regular lunchtime walks around the city centre. I knew that there was a branch in the West End if the city on Byres Road too but Ive never had the chance to pop into either. In all honesty, fast food isn't really my thing at lunchtime so it was easy for me to walk on by. So perhaps it was a bit of good fortune that I was invited along to the recently opened restaurant which sits inside Glasgow Central train station.
Taco Mazama's tagline reads "Burritos, Tequila & Tacos" so it was fitting that our night started off with some frozen margaritas. As I was driving I could only have a little sip but what i did taste was packed a good tequila kick balanced wonderfully with fresh lime juice, fortunately the drinks didn't go to waste as Nicola loved a frozen margarita and helped me finish. Our margaritas were accompanied by warm nachos served with homemade guacamole, fresh spicy salsa, and a slightly scary salsa made using refried beeans and ghost chillies!
The menu at Taco Mazama boasts a mix of burritos, soft and crispy tacos, nachos, quesadillas, fajitas and salads. Over the course of the evening, the staff done their best to let us try everything on the menu, starting with delicious soft flour tacos stuffed with slow-cooked barbecue pork, chargilled marinated chicken, barbacoa shredded beef, and vegetarian chilli.
Next up were quesadillas filled with Monterrey Jack, caramelised onions and more of the marinated chicken. I could eat quesadillas all day, they're such a great pick'up snack! In fact, all of the food that we were served, including the crispy filled corn tacos, was great and a fantastic introduction to Mexican street food.
As the night came to an end, the non drivers were treated to a shot of chilled honey tequila whilst I tucked into a creamy baked vanilla cheesecake whilst the owner of the Taco Mazama, Allan Bell filled us in on his plans for his growing empire.
Here's Allan's story;How did you get started?
I got the idea backpacking around California one summer, and after waiting for a few years for someone to open a burrito bar in Glasgow eventually decided if I wanted a burrito I’d just have to do it myself. To start off I spent a couple of months in the US trying out different burrito and taco chains, then spent a year or so developing recipes and finding premises, and Taco Mazama was born.
What’s the best piece of business advice you could give?
Know how to do every single task in your company and what the difference is between it being done well or done badly. You don't need to be able to chop as fast as the chef or be as organised as the office manager but if you don't know the process, you can't manage it. But don't be afraid to delegate to people that can do it better!
Where would you like to see your business in 5 years’ time?
I'd like to us to be large enough to be able to be able to experiment more. There are some amazing Mexican dishes that are virtually unknown here, and as a small business it’s difficult to develop a market for a new or unknown product, the bigger you get, the easier that is.
If you could only cook one of your own products/recipes, what would it be & why?
Guacamole! Definitely Guacamole. It’s impossible to buy pre-made, goes with pretty much everything (Guacamole omelettes, shouldn’t work, but do!) and is really good for you as well. Does it count as cooking though?
You can invite one person (living or dead) to your last meal – Who would it be and why? …and what’s on the menu?
Ah, well it'd have to be someone dead as I could invite living people anytime. I'd be inclined to pick someone that could make a meal last a really, really long time as well. A Roman emperor maybe, as far I can remember from history they had dinner parties that lasted for days. I think I'd leave the menu up to them - I'm always keen to try new things, and when in Rome...
Having now tried out the food on offer at Taco Mazama Mexican Kitchen, if I were ever passing one of their branches around lunchtime, I would be more than happy to pop in for a bowl of tacos and a plateful of quesadillas. With branches dotted around Glasgow and now reaching across the M8 to Edinburgh, it's going to be a whole lot easier to get my next Mexican fix.
If you love your Mexican food, why not head along and try the Burrito Challenge? If you succeed, you'll win a years worth of free burritos!
Written by Gerry Haughian