Steve Braunias, The man who ate Lincoln Rd rates Mexicali Fresh

Steve Braunias is on a mission to eat at each one of the 55 food joints on Lincoln Rd in West Auckland. • Episode 25: Mexicali Fresh
The menu didn’t make a lick of sense, and it was made even more baffling by the things going on in the digital screen above the counter. Photo / Michael Craig
The menu didn’t make a lick of sense, and it was made even more baffling by the things going on in the digital screen above the counter. Photo / Michael Craig

The man who ate Lincoln Rd ate at the latest food joint on Lincoln Rd this week - Mexicali, at the new 301 stripmall next to that little chicken shack on the prairie, Texas Chicken. Mexicali Fresh opened for business on Wednesday. I called in on Thursday. It's gonna be a winner.

It's cool. It's Mex, which is enough; strangely, Lincoln Rd hasn't had one of those until now. It's got the chassis of a VW Combi in the window and surfing films playing on a flatscreen and the music playing on Thursday included the alternate, actually trippier version of Strawberry Fields. Cool.

It's also got an American who talks a lot. He started talking the instant I opened the door. I bet he's still talking, right now, maybe to himself. I said, "Are you the franchisee?" He said, "I'm the franchisor." Conor Kerlin is from California. He opened his first Mexicali Fresh in Auckland in 2005. There are now 16 branches, including stores in Mt Maunganui, Hamilton and Christchurch.

Conor Kerlin visits most of them; beware.

He put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "Aha! I know you. What is it you're called again?" I said, "The man who ate Lincoln Rd." He said, "Yes! I've been wanting to have a word with you." He had a million words with me, and few of them were memorable. "Treat the customer like family...Fresh is best...My dad was a hippie," etc.

The best thing to do was to interrupt him. I said that Lincoln Rd was built on the sweat of people on the minimum wage, that it was a zone of cheap labour. "Ye-ah," he stammered.

Then I asked him if his staff were in the Unite union, which represents a lot of young people working in fast food, and he actually paused for a second. "No," he replied, nervously, then blathered some paternal gibberish about paying the living wage and treating the staff so well that they didn't need to be in a union. Uh-huh. Not cool, dude.

The menu was just as verbose. It didn't make a lick of sense, and it was made even more baffling by the things going on in the digital screen above the counter. God almighty, this is the age of 144 characters, of text abbreviations, of Snapchat and that! Just tell the customer what's for sale, and how much.

I ordered a double-decker taco. "It's the next generation taco," said Conor. No, it was just a taco wrapped in a soft flour tortilla, pasted with some old pinto beans. I got two, the pulled pork and the grilled chicken. The pulled pork was boring, the grilled chicken was fantastic, one of the best things I've eaten on Lincoln Rd.

The colour scheme of the place evokes an endless summer in California, and there are neat old posters referencing Frank Zappa and wrestling movies. I mentioned these to Conor, and then he took me on a guided tour of the toilets. That was never going to go well. "Phew!", he gagged, at a terrible stink wafting out of one of the stalls. It was difficult to concentrate on the range of posters on the walls.

But it's a fun place, and it will go off. Mex is always so good to eat, so sloppy and easy and happy, and the sauces at the Lincoln Rd premises are about to stock the awesome jalapeno and habanero chili sauces bottled by Lucky Taco, those gringo kings of Mex food in Auckland. Either of those sauces would revitalise the boring pulled pork and make it dance a jig.

My meal included a delicious Jarritos soda, and came to $18.50. Rating: 8/10.

- NZ Herald

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