I like Mexican food. I like it so much, I’m willing to settle for the mediocre Mexican food I can find in Knoxville. That’s what I did tonight – settle. Although I was also mildly surprised by a random special item on a whiteboard menu at El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant.
When I say the food at El Mezcal is mediocre, I don’t mean it’s bad, because it isn’t. The food at Taco Bell is bad. The food at Shoney’s is bad. The food at El Mezcal isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible and it’s reasonably inexpensive. We eat there when we have a hankering for Mexican food and don’t feel like dealing with the crowd and noise at Chuy’s (where the food is only slightly less mediocre, and more expensive). We decided to eat there tonight mainly because our regular Wednesday spot, a delightful taco shop named Oscar’s, wasn’t an option due to heavy traffic on the Strip and a lack of parking.
El Mezcal is like every other $10 or less per plate Mexican restaurant you may have tried. Chips and salsa, bean dip, fajitas with overdone tomatoes, oversize margaritas for the college kids, and thankfully, friendly staff. They’re especially friendly to us – a benefit of having a cute toddler at the table.
Tonight my wife ordered her usual – chicken fajitas to split with The Boy. I noticed the special of the day was Nachos Supremos, so I figured why not try something other than my usual – chicken chimichanga. I wish I hadn’t, as the nachos were a scattered mess of ground beef, which El Mezcal does not do well, shredded chicken, and a half pound of shredded lettuce over some chips, beans, cheese, and sour cream. I picked at my dish and left most of it uneaten, but I didn’t go hungry as my wife shared some of her fajitas with me.
I also ordered an unsual item I’d seen listed on the specials whiteboard – taco calimari. To be honest, I didn’t expect to get the best calimari in the world at a cheap Mexican restaurant in a land-locked state, but ordering it was worth it just to hear the “eww” from my wife. She and I have a 20 year old running joke about calimari, so I figured what the Hell. To my surprise, the calamari taco was pretty OK. Not great, but better than mediocre. It was fried, of course, and covered in enough pico de gallo to render the taste mostly moot, but the texture wasn’t super rubbery like most bad calamari. So I’d consider the meal a draw for me, and maybe more than that because our server was very attentive and kept new glasses of Diet Coke appearing whenever I came close to finishing mine.
I can’t give El Mezcal a strong endorsement, but you can do a lot worse for inexpensive Mexican in Knoxville.