A popular leader in the Mexican revolution of 1910, Emiliano Zapata, was an iconic Mexican freedom fighter. A young Marlon Brando attempted to bring Zapata to life in Viva Zapata! The 1952 film flopped, with most viewers disgusted with Brando’s half-hearted Mexican accent and taped eyelids. Nevertheless, Zapata represents a piece of Mexican heritage and has made his way to Nairobi, Kenya – not as a freedom fighter, but as an authentic Mexican restaurant in Parklands.
At Zapata Restaurant, a small, cheerful restaurant situated in a newly built office building, these tortilla chips, made from wholesome white maize ground to Chef Omar’s exact specifications, wallow in their distinct nutty flavour and is addictively salty. Crispy, light and fresh from the fryer, Zapata’s tortilla chips are good enough to be packaged and sold on supermarket shelves all over the country. Like any object of desire, they are elusive, if they’re sold out, they’re sold out. So, cross your fingers.
Zapata, which opened only in July 2012, is one of the only authentic Mexican joints in Nairobi. Only a few months old, the service team is still learning the ropes. Pull up a seat by the Tequila Bar, where 30 different Tequilas, all from Mexico, and you’ll soon find your shoulders shaking to light Mexican music. Captial Lifestyle Magazine’s favourite cocktail was the Michelada, a smokier and spicier tomato-based drink made with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces and chilli peppers. Above, a ceiling mural of blue skies and white clouds pays homage to how most Mexican families enjoy cooking, eating and socializing in outdoor spaces.
Mushrooms Ajillo Style (Sh 700) opened our palettes with meaty oyster mushrooms sautéed in garlic, dried red chillies and wine. The light squeeze of lime juice lifted the flavours and cooled the heat from the chillies, which for a chilli-lightweight would be at Armageddon-like levels. A bit dry, battered Fried Chicken Fingers (Sh 650) was served with a chive dressing and a side of cabbage salad. The Aztec Soup (Sh 500) of tomatoes with diced avocados, smoothed with fresh cream and sprinkled with crispy tortillas strips was deliciously comforting.
Chef Omar’s favourite, Mexican Traditional Chicken Fajitas (Sh 980), presented with a container of homemade soft flour tortillas, wrapped with tissue paper to weep away condensation, was the perfect texture – supple and didn’t break when rolled. However, three tortillas was a meager portion for the amount of grilled chicken with roasted sweet bell peppers and onions, refried beans and guacamole. Tampiquena Style Sirloin Steak (Sh 1050) served with red tomato rice, refried beans and guacamole was dry and perhaps medium rare would’ve been a better choice than “medium.”
I won’t trouble you with the usual speech about the difference between being cheap and offering value. Just know that Zapata Restaurant is tasty. It’s doing the right thing, and with small improvements, it’ll definitely get there.
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