July 24, 2011

Comfort Week or Berlin's Mexican Spring

Maria Bonita - Prenzlauer Berg

Every now and then, when everyone around me allows themselves to wallow in Berlin-nostalgia about those times before Berlin became hype and rents started rising, I like thinking of my first year in Berlin. It was ex-pat paradise. Everything was new, exciting and affordable. And Berlin was good to me. The peak of that year would probably have to be my obligatory ex-pat-romantic crisis, which I – together with two friends whom we shall call Sarah and Maura – exaggerated into oblivion in 7 days of the most exhilarating self pity otherwise known as Comfort Week.

Why all three of us felt the need to seek solace in each other’s problems is beside the point. We all thought we had romantic issues that were greater than ourselves and enjoyed the drama involved in the combination of tears and ice cream. It was absolutely fantastic: we played Cowboys and Indians in the Tiergarten shooting plastic arrows at happy looking couples (while screaming “Die, Motherf%&ckers, Die! Another neurosis that will have to remain beside the point), we stuffed our face with buckets of ice cream, drank champagne in the middle of the day and decided we had to leave the country (which ended in a coach ride to Copenhagen and a hung-over half-marathon upon returning to Berlin). In one week, we did everything we wanted to without thinking of any ramifications, consequences or small hurdles in the way of acting on any of our young ex-pat whims.

This was the best of being an ex-pat in a city that offered you the cover of anonymity and the luxury of affordability. We discovered the downsides merely a week later. Maura was having a home sickness breakdown and it felt like we needed to console her with something she actually missed. Being a Southern Beauty, what she missed most was her car, apple pies and Mexican food. The latter had actually developed into an obsession. Maura would be able to work herself into rage tantrums because she had not had any guac and beans for any period of time.

So we tried to find a Mexican place. It was a mistake. Mexican restaurants in Berlin of yore were Teutonic variations on greasy meat and thick dough. None of them had ever heard of real avocados or spicy sauces. There were always mounds of Gouda and cream and a couple of bland beans on the side. If any, it only seemed to enhance Maura’s home sickness.

With these experiences etched deep into my memory, I could hardly believe it when American friends of mine recommended trying Maria Bonita on Danziger Straße, saying it was “just like in New York.” So there I went.

The place definitely looks like a typical hole-in-the-wall you would find in New York. The space is tiny and the only seating arrangements are a couple of bar stools inside or a few ramshackle picnic tables outside. The menu was one promising page of Mexican joy, the prices just right for the ambiance and for the area.

We started with a large guacamole (for 5 €, also available for half the price if you happened to crave the small version) and totopos (refried beans, 2.5 €). Both dishes were very generously served with copious amounts of corn chips. The guac was good. It was not the best one I have had in my life, but definitely the best I have tried in Berlin: made of real avocados with good seasoning. The totopos, on the other hand, were a bit dull (yet still a lot better than the usual excuse for beans you get in other so called Mexican places in Berlin).

Quesadilla de pollo

We moved on to a burrito puerco especial with extra cheese (with marinated pork, guacamole, red salsa and chipotle cream for 7 €), a veggie quesadilla (with melted cheese, sheep cheese and chipotle cream for 6 €) and a quesadilla de pollo especial (with melted cheese and tinga de pollo for 7 €). The burrito was great fun. True, it was greasy and over laden with just about everything that can be subsumed under the title “too heavy”, but isn’t that exactly the purpose of eating a burrito? It was well seasoned (albeit could use a bit more spice) and really did feel like New York (yet not like the best ones in New York and not nearly anywhere close to California or down South, let alone Mexico). The quesadillas were fun as well, but not as good as the burrito. The veggie quesadilla was one big pile of melted cheese in-your-face, which can’t be bad, but did not much taste of anything else other than melted cheese (and left you with the sick feeling you get after inflicting unnecessary levels of pain on your stomach). The chicken quesadilla was slightly better, as it had more “stuff” in it, but it was still too blandly cheesy to be truly pleasing. This being said, it probably still is the best quesadilla in town.

Veggie quesadilla

Maria Bonita is not the best Mexican in the world. I’m not sure I’d return there any day. But at least it’s a start. I would have given a lot to have it around six years ago, and I’m sure Maura would have done the same. Having a place that serves real guacamole would have saved our little ex-pat group serious pain and tears. Nonetheless, it will have to live with mere three prints. Being (probably) the best Mexican in Berlin is not all too difficult at the moment, and most of all, it still has work to do on improving that menu. More spice and more taste are required. A wee-bit of refinement might be an idea as well.

Overall mark:

Maria Bonita (not to be confused with its spin-off venue, Maria Peligro in Kreuzberg)
Danziger Straße 33, 10435 Berlin

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1 comment:

  1. Well I don't know if I'm ever going to come to Berlin, but thank you for this guide, it's very well done!
    Please visit