Comidas para los gringos

La Mision falls into that category of Mexican restaurants like El Novillero, Ernesto’s and the El Torito chain, where the interior and menu design have had a lot of work put into them, the prices are higher than at your average Mexican place (super burrito: $8.50?!), and the clientele isn’t likely to speak much Spanish. It’s also a rather large place with a right and a left dining room and, as you may imagine, a slightly over-the-top mission-themed interior design. A large ceramic fountain dominates the center of the high-ceilinged room with a colorful mural adorning the back wall above a fireplace. Faux Spanish-style roofing hangs out above the tables, and the floors and chairs are done up in colorful tiles. So, of course, I’m thinking, “I bet the food’s mediocre at best.”

If you know me, you know that I’m usually one to insist on the superiority of the little taquerias where nearly everything’s under $5 and floor washing doesn’t appear to be a nightly duty. And I know I say this every time I write one of these things, but: why is it that good atmosphere and good food are so often mutually exclusive? For me, the food’s what counts. You could sit me down in the middle of the Taj Mahal, but if you feed me a tepid wiener on a soggy bun, I’ll still feel inclined to feed you hot tongue and cold shoulder in return.

But La Mision is one place that, despite my prejudice, occupies a nice middle ground within the atmosphere vs. food dichotomy. And anyway there are people, such as my mom, who—as long as the food is halfway decent—are fine, but who will insist the place be comfortable and “nice” inside. For those mom types, La Mision works out perfectly; the food’s definitely halfway decent—probably even three-quarters-way decent—the atmosphere’s a bit fun, if not particularly unique, and the service is prompt and very friendly.

If you tried, though, I’m sure you could divine what the menu consists of and how the food is, merely based on my description of the restaurant’s interior. As far as combinations, this is the kind of place that has those insanely huge ones that read: Combination No. 1—beef taco, beef enchilada, chile relleno, chili colorado, chili verde, rice and beans, warm tortillas ($10.95). I can’t help marveling that people order this stuff. Do you know someone that could tuck something like this away? On the other hand, you could probably get it to go and live off it for a couple of days. If you look at it that way, it’s a pretty good deal.

But now that I’ve characterized other La Mision customers as gluttons, I have to admit sheepishly that I had the rather hefty daily special, which was a 10 oz. New York steak that came with a chicken enchilada, rice and beans and tortillas ($10.95), but I didn’t finish it. The steak had been butterflied so it looked a bit like a thin beef pancake. It was cooked as I ordered it and it tasted like steak. The chicken enchilada was filled with chicken and covered in a light brown, mild but very savory enchilada sauce, which was actually really good and enhanced the steak. An avocado wedge, shredded lettuce with salsa, and rice and beans packed the plate to its capacity. Not at all bad.

Chicken and shrimp fajitas ($11.95) came sautéed with peppers, tomatoes and onions and seemed a bit bland, but I guess that’s why they have salt on the table.

The best part of the meal, though, were the tortillas, because they make them fresh twice daily and, we were told, they had just finished them when we ordered. So they were quite good tortillas—hot, fresh and just a bit doughy.

I don’t think anyone would be disappointed with La Mision. If you always go to the same Mexican place, why not branch out and give it a try?