Wedged between the commotion of Old Dixie Highway and the consumer comforts of Sunset Drive in South Miami is a gem called The MexZican Gourmet. With outdoor seating facing the calm side street of SW 59th Avenue, this recently opened restaurant invites you off of the main drag and into the shade of the large canvas canopy offering respite from the summer heat.
My dining companion and I arrived for an early dinner around five o’clock. We sat outside under the canopy to enjoy the occasional breeze and a bit of people watching. Unlit Christmas lights wrapped around tree branches suggested a more romantic setting for evening dining. Our server brought basket of tortilla chips to the table, as well as a small cup of tomatillo salsa. The chips, though fried, were crunchy without a hint of grease or salt and the tomatillo salsa had citrusy tang that was both addicting and refreshing. A cup of the house “hot” salsa was brought out at our request; thick and red, the hot salsa had a warm, growing heat to it that was easily quenched with a sip of one’s beverage.
The hot air called for a refreshing drink, so I ordered myself a glass of horchata ($3) alongside our glasses of water. Recipes and styles for horchata differ from restaurant to restaurant but it is generally a rice-water beverage flavored with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes evaporated or condensed milk, served over ice. Richer version of the drink remind one of liquefied rice pudding. The MexZican Gourmet’s version was light and creamy with the zip of fresh cinnamon and the slightly chalky mouth-feel of ground rice that makes up the backbone of the horchata’s flavor.
For my appetizer, I set my sights on the ensalada de nopalitos ($7.25), a salad of cactus, tomato, red onion, and cilantro, served with the house dressing. The salad is presented a top a leaf of iceberg lettuce and sprinkled with queso fresco. The salad offers sour, sweet, and salty flavors from the cactus, tomatoes, and cheese, respectively, and a crisp-tender crunch. The flavors were fresh and light but the salad had a hearty weight to it as well. I was feeling somewhat full when my entrée, the chiles rellenos ($18.25) arrived, two poblano peppers, tender and stuffed with shredded skirt steak and topped with melted queso fresco, resting in a pool of tomatillo chile pasilla sauce. Rice and beans were served alongside the entrée.
The shredded beef was juicy and bit chewy and a growing heat from the poblanos. The pasilla sauce contributed a bit of spice and creaminess while the queso fresco added a bit of salt and mildness to top off the dense entrée. The richness and mounting heat of the dish was offset by the horchata, whose sugar and cinnamon kick cut through the fattiness of the meat and sauce. The rice served along with my dish was flavorful but the beans, though served with a sprinkling of queso fresco were bland and somewhat greasy.
My dining companion ordered the toxtada de pollo ($9.50), a dish considerably lighter than my own. Mildly spiced “puebla style” shredded chicken tops tortilla chips (the same as the chips brought out with our beverages) along with refried beans, lettuces, chiuahua cheese, and crema fresco. The crunch of the chips, tenderness of the chicken and beans, crispness of the lettuce, and the salty creaminess of the crema fresca and cheese turns a simple favorite into a blend of textures and flavors that is light on the tongue and in the stomach. Paired with a cerveza and a summer breeze, it is much more appropriate for an 88 degree afternoon than my heavy entrée.
A caramel flan was ordered for dessert. It arrived at the table with a mint syrup decorating the plate. The flan was eggy and rich and melted in the mouth, while the caramel sauce was light and sweet. The mint sauce was bright green and tasted more of grass than mint leaves; it was largely ignored.
The MexZican Gourmet originated as a food truck of the same name, helmed by Chef Zè Carlos Jimenez, that specialized in serving fresh Mexican cuisine. The brick and mortar restaurant opened in December 2011 to great reviews. The quality of The MexZican Gourmet’s food speaks to its ability to transition from food truck to full restaurant with such success. If you want to break away from the traffic of Old Dixie Highway and the crowds of Sunset Drive, The MexZican Gourmet’s outdoor oasis is certainly a place to consider.
THE MEXZICAN GOURMET
5904 SOUTH DIXIE HWY, MIAMI FL 33143