Heading home from the pub last night, feeling all warm and fuzzy, I was struck by a sudden urge for Mexican. So, good job that there was a Mexican place round the corner, so I thought. I was in the center, and rather than do my usual of taking a cab up to Tortilla Factory, I figured I’d walk the ten meters to La Fiesta Tequila Bar instead. Bad move, as it turns out.
I’ve got a questionable history with this lot, I must admit, with memories of a catastrophic meal here a few years ago still vivid in my mind. But I’m a fair guy, and had heard that in recent times they’ve taken serious steps to improve their reputation. To do so they’ve re-jigged their interiors, going for a cool Day of the Dead style that’s both quirky and fun. And the changes haven’t been cosmetic, either. Gone are the old gang who once worked the kitchen, replaced instead by Jorge Martinez. If the facebook pics are anything to go by, this Mexican native is cooking up a master class in the cuisine of his homeland.
Unfortunately, this is something I can’t confirm. La Fiesta is tiny, so you expect the chances of getting served as being quite high; more so when there are three servers taking care of less than ten customers. But no. What I encountered was the worst service I’ve seen for years. Having been resolutely ignored for 30 minutes I left seething, feeling like a second class citizen – had I been armed, I would have left a trail of headless corpses. As a result, and in the cold light of day, I hereby vow to never enter La Fiesta again, and sincerely wish them nothing but misfortune in the future.
Yet if yesterday was the meal that wasn’t, today was the meal that was. Having wrapped up a meeting in the center, I found myself diving downstairs into Diner 55. Immediately I stood out as being the oldest person there by a good 15 years. In a dark corner, a group of cackling student girls were having the time of their lives, while from the speakers hip hop thugs threatened to put ‘caps in my mother f@*king n!gger ass’.
But while I wouldn’t take my mother here, I’ve got no probs returning myself. Basically, I loved it. Set in a dark, industrial basement, it’s clearly got the younger 20s crowd in mind. Even so, I never felt unwelcome – and credit for that rests squarely with my waitress: a real superstar. As for the food, the card is actually three menus in one: that of Pan Burger, Mr. Pancake and Rico’s Tacos. Together, these three ventures have clubbed together to rent out this space and split the profits – a nice idea and one I hope works.
I’ve visited Mr. Pancake several times, in their original flagship in Powiśle. I love their pancakes, their fun, wacky look and creative toppings (M&Ms, funny faces, and lots of chocolatey stuff). They’re the sort of pancakes you’d get if Bart Simpson got stoned and decided to make some food – brilliant. As for Pan Burger, I crossed them a few times over summer and have nothing but good things to say. But, having had my Mexican ambitions thwarted the previous night, I was here for Rico’s Tacos.
On that front there’s a few quesadillas and a scattering of tacos – I went for chicken and a couple of habanero salsas. Marketed as ‘very spicy’, the habanero was a bit tame for my usual death wish tastes, but everything else was spot on – these were proper tacos, not grizzly kebab contraptions peddled elsewhere. And there were no complaints with the zł. 15 price tag. I wasn’t finished though, choosing to conclude with their Mex Dog: a hot dog wrapped in bacon and loaded with jalapenos and salsa. I thought I’d be getting the dirge you get served at every Polish petrol station, so was surprised to find this was the deal of the day. This was, to coin the phrase of 2013, pure street food porn. Even better, the generous scoop of jalapenos left my tonsils tingling for several minutes after.
Diner 55 does not try and reinvent the wheel. They know what they’re good at and they stick to it. There is nothing complicated here, nothing smart and nothing smarmy. It’s about simple, basic comfort food that’s cooked well and served with a smile. It’s a simple concept, so you’d think, but so many places seem to get that wrong. Here, they don’t – here, it all goes just right.
(Words and Photos: Alex Webber)
La Fiesta ul. Foksal 21
Diner 55 ul. Żurawia 32/34 (enter from Parkingowa), facebook