It was a scorching hot summer's evening in Cape Town as I pulled up outside a little Mexican restaurant tucked away in a corner of Green Point. The sun's rays were still reaching through the buildings at 7pm, and I was looking forward to drinking something cold and lemony, with perhaps a hint of tequila and triple sec.
But first, polite greetings at the door. My partner and I walked into a fairly quiet restaurant and were greeted by a friendly face. Immediately I launched into an introduction at the speed of knots, but as I sped on the friendly face quickly turned into a confused one. You see, this little Mexican restaurant is run by a family of Mexicans who have been in Cape Town just under a year. Understandably, English doesn’t come naturally.
Once I'd worked out that I should slow down and perhaps repeat my introduction, Arturo Garcia Aispuro (a mouthful, I know!) introduced himself and his restaurant and speedily had us seated and waiting for our margaritas. And what margaritas they were! Made with much care by Arturo's father (who follows a secret recipe from his grandfather), the icy, lemony sweetness slipped down our throats with ease.
Arturo's English may be stilted, but his hospitality means that you're not left wanting. In the kitchen, Arturo’s brother Ricardo creates the food. He is a trained chef and takes the preparation of his food very seriously. With their parents helping out where they can, the brothers make a great team.
Once we'd got half way through our drinks, Arturo suggested we start with something nice and simple — guacamole and nachos. While we waited, we sipped at our margaritas and looked around — the restaurant is simply but thoughtfully decorated with sturdy wooden chairs and tables, a terracotta floor and a warm mustard-yellow colour on the walls.
Though an authentic Mexican restaurant is novel here, in Mexico this would be considered a simple taco bar. "They're everywhere in Mexico," Arturo says, shrugging. South African diners have mostly been exposed to Tex-Mex – a spicy and often oily interpretation of the food that Mexicans prepare - but real Mexican food is anything but oily, Arturo explains.
Our guacamole arrives and we dig in, shovelling up great piles of it with Ricardo's homemade nachos. With hints of coriander, lime and parmesan the guacamole offers a green freshness and whets our appetite for mains.
They arrive at our table, beautifully presented. First, a tender diced beef dish called Taco de Carne Asada, which is a tortilla with barbecued meat, guacamole, onion and coriander. This is laid out on the soft taco and is accompanied by a chilli sauce, red bean soup and a fresh salsa. Arturo encouraged us to eat with our hands, so there we were, leaning over our plates, tasty juices oozing out our tacos as we took huge mouthfuls. Ricardo makes sure that he chooses only the finest ingredients, and we could certainly taste the difference.
The same went for the Flautas en Salsa Verde — a crispy deep-fried folded tortilla, filled with chicken and served with a beautiful green sauce. Arturo told us that the sauce was made with ripe green tomatoes, which they get from a local friend. It's a fresh and light meal, even though it's deep-fried.
We finished our meal off with a small taste of Agua de Horchata — a sweetened rice milk drink with a touch of cinnamon.
After such an incredible meal, I was pleased to see that the prices were reasonable, ranging from R65 to R80 for a main, while starters will costs you in the region of R10 to R30 for each little dish.
As far as the drinks went, the margaritas are not overpriced at just under R40 and the care with which they’re made means that they're worth every cent.
After being serenaded by a guitar-toting Don Arturo — the very man who made our margaritas — we learnt that the singing and instrument playing is a skill all his fellow countrymen are taught. If that's the case, I'm saving up for a one-way ticket to Mexico - but in the meantime, I'll be spending some time at San Julian to get my fix of that country’s warmth and hospitality.
Contact San Julian at 021 419 4233
Address: 3 Rose Street, Green Point, Cape Town