Mixteco Grill: May 11, 2008

Boy, oh boy.
I've always thought you can tell a lot about a place by what's in the bathroom. It's often true for guys, and it's DEFINITELY true for restaurants.
So when I entered Mixteco's one unisex bathroom and looked around -- deep red walls, a wrought-iron-framed mirror and a urinal, for god's sake -- I knew this was going to be a place with some real cojones. From a heavy helping of brotherly love to a habanero sauce that will truly put hair on your chest...I could go on and on and on with the man metaphors. All based on that urinal in the bathroom.
But you came here to read a review, not marvel at my metaphorical prowess.
So it goes.
From the outside, Mixteco looks like a bare-bones taqueria in a neighborhood that really wouldn't benefit from one more of these places. But when Rob and I came inside out of the chilly, damp MAY AIR (grrr), we were met with a rush of warmth. The owner greeted us like family, and the decor was somehow spare and inviting all at once.
The service throughout our meal really stood out. The owner, the server, even the chef treated everyone like brothers and sisters, which I like. (Some people like to be serrrrrrved, but I'd much rather get the down-home treatment.) The owner actually came over at one point after noticing us taking pictures of, um, everything, and poked fun at us about it.
As a girl whose virgin empanada experience up to now was at On the Border (don't judge me), I was positively blown away by the food. It almost seemed impossible that such gorgeously presented and perfectly executed food could come out of such a hole in the wall. Surprises lurk around every damn corner in this town.
Highlights for me included a glorious beef and potato empanada, part of a delicious trio; and my salmon, wood grilled to a perfect, seared medium rare and served in a smoky-sweet red mole. For a much better account of the food, you should probably just read Rob L.'s review. We were at the same table.
To cap off our evening, the chef -- who apparently used to work at Frontera and Topo -- visited our table and asked us what we thought. And actually cared.
And what was originally my ONLY complaint actually became endearing by the time we left. I seem to get seated at a wobbly table everywhere I go lately, and my luck was no different at Mixteco. But then I found out that, to save money and focus more on the really important parts of the operation, the staff had made the tables themselves. And suddenly it didn't matter so much to me that I had to keep my elbows on the table to anchor us.