/Mexican Food in Rome: No, Gracias!

Mexican Food in Rome: No, Gracias!


Piping hot microwaved chicken tacos at Griglieria La Vaca.

When I think of Mexican food in Rome, one phrase comes to mind: basura caliente — “hot garbage”. One doesn’t have to be bilingual, however, to appreciate how much of Mexico’s culinary greatness is lost in translation at Rome’s Mexican restaurants. Tacos and burritos and barely recognizable, their ingredients ranging from stale and dry to excessive and superfluous. Recently, my Mexican dining experiences reached new lows with two dinners at Griglieria La Vaca in Monti.

For the months before it opened, Griglieria La Vaca’s storefront, embellished with a bowl of vegetables, a handwritten menu, and a sombrero, held great promise. I passed by regularly hoping to see signs of life, some indication that a restaurant serving South American and Mexican dishes a short walk from my house was not a figment of my salsa starved imagination.


Beef burrito covered in loads of crap at Griglieria La Vaca.

When it finally opened six weeks ago, I stopped by for dinner. The place was empty, though there had been other patrons that evening. I could tell because their dirty glasses and dishes laid abandoned on neighboring tables, where they would remain until after we left. Not a great sign.

We mulled over the menu while waiting for hot Coronas to chill in an ice bucket. In spite of the large slabs of beef tempting us from the nearby fridge, we decided on chicken tacos and a beef burrito. While we waited, we snacked on nachos, guacamole, salsa, and black bean dip from the antipasto buffet. These things were decent enough, but not everything on the table was so appetizing. There was a frighteningly large bowl of mayonaise. Not sour cream. Mayonaise. Another bad sign.


Chicken tacos, second time around, at Griglieria La Vaca.

Don’t lose hope, I told myself. The black bean dip was very good, actually–smooth, well seasoned, and richly flavored. After polishing off the snacks, we waited for our mains, still clinging to the hope that decent Mexican food could be had in Monti. With an abrupt PING these dreams were shattered. Through the glass of the open kitchen I saw the burritos being removed from the microwave. They were delivered to the table followed by the chicken tacos 1 minute 20 seconds later.

Aside from the fact microwaving the tacos left the corn tortilla floppy and gummy, the filling was just fine. The shredded chicken had plenty of flavor and spices. The chicken tacos were edible. The beef burrito was covered in so much crap it was hard to eat and the ground beef filling was rather tasteless.


Beef burrito given the Jackson Pollock treatment with salsa at Griglieria La Vaca.

Brimming with disappointment tempered with optimism, I returned to La Vaca a couple of weeks later and had the exact same things: antipasto buffet, chicken tacos, and a beef burrito. I had hoped that the restaurant had worked out some kinks. It hadn’t. In fact, things had deteriorated. The food at the buffet was possibly the same exact food I had encountered on the first trip. Most everything tasted a little off. The beloved black bean spread was dry and chalky. The trough of mayo was still there.

But perhaps the strangest thing was that the chicken tacos and beef burrito looked completely different the second time around. Rather than being rolled up, the fillings laid between two flour tortillas. Bizarre. And this time the chicken was heinously dry and inedible. The beef burrito looked like a mangled quesadilla doused in salsa. Saddened, disillusioned, and confused, I resigned myself to the fact that La Vaca would not become my local Mexican hangout.

2016-01-07T03:38:41+00:00 July 8th, 2010|Categories: Food & Wine, Gastronomic Traditions, Restaurants, Rome & Lazio|21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. @passerotto July 8, 2010 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Ew.

    Ever been to Cùcara Màcara? Viale Gottardo, 89/91 (Montesacro). Nothing sensational, but better than this horror story.

  2. […] places I find totally overpriced, disgusting, and overhyped (in that order): Green T (Chinese), Griglieria La Vaca (cross between South American, Mexican, and hot garbage), Sonia Hang Zhou (Chinese; How did this […]

  3. Angie July 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    You know, that’s my one and only complaint when it comes to food in Italy… ethnic variety. My experience has been that if you find a restaurant that isn’t straight Italian, good luck cause the chances of it not being good are pretty high. I don’t know how many mediocre burritos I had to endure in Florence. blegh.

  4. Mamma Parla July 9, 2010 at 4:36 am - Reply

    What a disappointment! I had such high hopes that this place was going to serve decent Mexican. Guess we’ll have to make our own tacos and salsa on my next visit.

  5. kim July 9, 2010 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Every now and then I get this crazy idea that I want to live in Italy, who wouldn’t love that, right? And then I read your posts on ethnic food and realize I would probably miss salsa more than I would miss oxygen…

    I feel for you!

  6. Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy July 10, 2010 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Mexican is one of the ethnic cuisines that is terrible in Italy that I miss from the US. That and Chinese food, I’ve found. Luckily you can still get decent Indian and Sushi in Italy, but I definitely miss Mexican. Sigh.

  7. Sarah May July 11, 2010 at 12:09 am - Reply

    I love this blog, and I so agree with saying No, gracias to Mexican food in Rome. 7 more days until San Diego Mexican food heaven. I don’t know if the problem is the lack of authentic ingredients(which are not that hard to find) or that they think the clients do not know what authentic mexican food tastes like?

  8. Katie July 11, 2010 at 11:21 am - Reply

    @passerotto ive heard good things about that place and will check it out soon. it’s my last hope.

    @Angie Italy has some good Japanese and Ethiopian restaurants but, beyond that, it is slim pickings

    @Mamma Parla yes! we always manage to make great food at home. why can’t a restaurant do the same???

    @kim haha its rough!

    @Sara I honestly dont know how ive lasted this long without it

    @Sarah May i think it is the latter. so much ethnic food is dumbed down for broader appeal. at least in rome, most diners patronize ethic restaurants for their novelty rather than for an authentic experience. the ingredients are here, the audience to appreciate them is not.

  9. maria August 15, 2010 at 12:34 am - Reply

    I really miss mole. I can make decent tacos, etc., but where do i find those really authentic mexican specialties that require hours of lovefelt labour, like tamales, menudo, carnitas. why oh! why did i have to fall in love with an italian man when my heart for food is in mexico!!!!

  10. Marlene August 17, 2010 at 5:50 am - Reply

    Katie, if you are a food expert you should know about CUCARA MACARA, in the heart of Rome (89/91 Viale Gottardo, Montesacro) it is the best Mexican, I mean, the best Authentic Mexican Food in all Italy. The owners are Danilo and Maria from Chiapas, Mexico and they are not only very friendly but they cook and make the best margaritas I have ever had.
    That is real aunthentic mexican food not the texmex that you find all over the USA. Believe me, I am from Mexico. The food is so good that when I am in Rome I eat at Cucara Macara almost every day and I do not get tired of it. I wish there was a Cucara Macara here in the States. Viva Mexico!

    • Katie August 17, 2010 at 11:24 pm - Reply

      I do know Cucara Macara tho i have never been. i will go there as soon as i return to rome and am very excited as i have heard great things. is my one last hope! Viva Mexico indeed!

  11. papa parla August 18, 2010 at 7:13 am - Reply

    sorry i missed commenting sooner. mexican fare is so easy to replicate that this is an example of someone who lacks the basics of culinary talent. all of the ingredients are readyly available and excellent in italy from spices, meats and vegetables. microwaves are for popcorn.

  12. maria August 20, 2010 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Anyone know where to find green tomatoes, chiles pasilla, ancho, chipotles, serranos, etc., here in Rome??? I just moved here from USA, but I’m from Mexico. Even masa amarilla for tortillas, I hate flour tortillas!!!!

  13. Katie August 20, 2010 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    maria have you checked the piazza vittorio market (aka mercato nuovo esquilino)? the stalls there stock a nice variety of peppers and if they dont have what you are looking for you can place an order for it. there is also an international food shop on via dello statuto across the street from MAS and they are pretty helpful in obtaining hard to find ingredients. buena suerte!

  14. maria August 20, 2010 at 9:50 pm - Reply

    Will check them out!! Gracias Katie.

  15. Katie August 20, 2010 at 9:53 pm - Reply

    de nada maria. tell us how you make out. buen provecho!

  16. Mateo November 6, 2010 at 1:02 am - Reply

    Got to go to Cucaramacara, I work for the American embassy in Rome. I love Italian food but after a while I want spicy Mexican food, real Mexican dishes, and Cucaramacara has what I want. Great food! and the margaritas, the best I ever had. The owners are great. Everyone at the embassy know about this great little place. I lived in Mexico for a few years and all over the States before Rome, and thank God Cucaramaca does not have the TexMex food we get back at home. I know good Mexican food when I see it!!!!!

    • Katie November 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm - Reply

      thanks mateo! i am dying to get up there. things keep getting in the way but i hope to get there next week. expect a full report!

  17. The Worst of 2010, Rome Edition December 28, 2010 at 8:57 am - Reply

    […] Griglieria La Vaca: It is so painful to think back on the meals I had at this Monti-based Mexican restaurant. Phrases like mayonaise vat, microwave cooking, and dog food come to mind. It would have been amazing to have a good Mexican place close to home. Instead we got this. […]

  18. […] crime against injera!), Mexico al Aventino (possible the worst food I have ever eaten, after Grigliera La Vaca, of course!). Related Posts:Mesob, Excellent Ethiopian in RomeWhere (And Where Not) to Eat Ethnic […]

  19. Robert May 4, 2013 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Honestly, that is my complaint about Italy. There is nothing but Italian food and barely anything else. One can only eat so much pasta and Pizza. I did however discover a pretty decent Japonese restaurant called Taki. I eat sushi regularly in L.A. and it was pretty tasty and just like home. I haven’t really searched for Mexican, although I am jonesing for some right now but if you are looking for pretty tasty tacos just head over to Hardrock Cafe and order the Steak Fajitas. It comes with flour tortillas that are actually pretty good and make your own tacos. They come with grilled peppers, real sour cream a Great guacamole and salsa (pico de gallo). I am an authority on Mexican food. I am born and raised in L.A. and of 1/2 Mexican decent and I have probably been to every hole in the wall Mexican reataurant in L.A. and every Gourmet Mexican in Southern California and parts of Mexico. You won’t be dissapointed.

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