I first became aware of the new Plaza District taco joint Mexican Radio, 1734 N.W. 16th—named after the analog ode to the eating of “barbequed iguana” by Wall of Voodoo—after a press release by Good Egg CEO Keith Paul was released earlier this year.
In it, he described the concept of Mexican Radio as food items that are “rooted in Tex-Mex” but then goes on to make it clear that it’s “not a taqueria.” Additionally, he claimed that he didn’t want to get into the whole “that’s not real Mexican” debate, effectively shutting up Latinos that would have anything to say about their brand of “non-denominational tacos” for the—ugh—“MTV generation.”
After finally visiting Mexican Radio, all I can say is “mission accomplished,” Keith.
While I do have definite criticisms of the place, really, Mexican Radio is not that bad of a non-denominational taco joint, with a somewhat eclectic and mostly inventive menu served by a rainbow coalition of kids in shirts featuring bands I’m pretty sure they don’t listen to. It’s an atmosphere that I’m sure many traditional Latinos would refer to as filled with a superficial “fresa” culture, which I completely understand.
The Saturday night my date and I went, the place was about half-full, with plenty of room on the patio, the upcoming cold front not set in yet. Perusing the small drink menu, I decided to try the Disney-esque Dole Whip Margarita ($8.00), a pineapple and coconut infused bit of tropical heaven that, rim of salt and fruity pebbles aside, was an altruistic alcoholic beverage.
Feeling a little bit borracho on the frozen cocktail, in lieu of the Salsa Roja and Chips—no free set-up here, mi gente—I decided to order the Jalapeno Pimento Cheese Empanadas ($10.00); with more of a dessert flavor than I had expected, this starter was another surprise that, with enough forethought, could (should?) probably had been our entire meal.
And while the dipping sauce of local honey was a bit strange at first, I think it really worked.
The problem with Mexican Radio comes mostly from their non-taco taco menu; ordering the more obscure items such as the Crispy Buffalo Cauliflower ($4.00) and the Veggie Egg ($3.75)—both items I know will inspire ire from particular readers here—that, while considerably larger than what I expected, were non-denominationally mediocre in taste.
With far less flavor than what was promised on the menu, it took many dabs and dashes of the verde and roja salsas to feel anything with a bit of a burn; the side of the traditional Refried Beans with Queso Fresco ($3.50) were even lazier, tasting like they were scooped from a freshly opened can of Rosarita’s, even though I was told by the server that they were made fresh in the kitchen.
I would like to say that it’s the tacos that make Mexican Radio a troublesome spot, but, cleverly, they publicly don’t want to be involved in the debate over their tacos and, even more so, their Mexican food. Like a Latino teen that is obsessed with American culture and is willing to sell out their own, Mexican Radio is truly a fresa paradise, but one that’s willing to be very open and very proud about it.
And, you know, I really can’t fault them for that—sometimes you have to thumb your nose at tradition and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, as in this case, both.