The coolest kid on Carrer Girona these days is Malpaso, a gourmet Mexican spot sporting a funky menu, which fuses local favorites with classics from the Yucatán. That means a combo of vermutería snacks to “picar” out of tin, with stuff like tortilla soup with crunchy corn and a cake made of de-spined cactus and veggies fresh out of the oven. They also have a few serious fish, pork and steak dishes on the menu, just to be safe, along with a signature burger that does not seem too Mexican. But a good half of their offerings have the word ¨maíz¨ in the title so I guess it passes. Plus a little fusion never killed anybody. Sometimes you want to share tacos to start but get a burger as your main. If that burger is good, there ain’t nothing wrong with that scenario. The menu and place settings scream literary hipster, loaded with happenin’ slang (It´s how I learned chingón was Mexican for smart-ass), along with fun facts about cool authors and political figures, mostly from South and Central America.
The venue itself is also pretty rad, with the ground floor occupied by a large bar with dining counters and another counter facing the street, where smoking is allowed and people watching is encouraged. There´s an upstairs too but I never thought to take a look. Right by the bar is clearly the best place to see and be scene.
While waiting for our tacos to arrive we indulged in a plate of enchiladas verdes, flour tortillas rolled up and stuffed with tender shreds of chicken, topped with cheese melted on and drenched in a piquant green chili sauce. It was served with a side of tortilla chips, refried beans and fresh cheese to scoop up. What matters most in this traditional Mayan dish / adapted Mexican street food is the sauce, and in the case of Malpaso´s enchiladas, the sauce rocks. It has a dirty green hue and a beautiful blend of heat and acidity that pricks the tongue just enough and injects the otherwise mildly flavored chicken with tons of flavor. The meat was cooked to a juicy, moist texture, though I found the cheese melted over the top to be a bit stiff. The corn tortillas remained nice and grainy, retaining a bite and elasticity instead of disintegrating in the steamy sauce.
In the taco department we chose tongue and cochinita, which came with a little DIY setup: two hot little cast iron bowls of meat, a ramekin of red wine pickled onions, another with fresh onion and cilantro, and some refried beans to spread on as a base. A little basket held steamy little corn tortillas to fill and fold up on your own.
The tongue was served in hearty chunks with lime to squeeze over it. It was pleasantly tender and just a bit gummy, with that wonderful, slightly sordid taste of innards that was balanced expertly by a few squirts of citrus. The little pot made for 3 to 4 tacos, not bad for the price considering the preparation of the tongue, which is an ingredient far too easy to screw up.
By far my favorite was the cochinita, another traditional Mayan preparation from the Yucatan. It´s a sensuous stew of suckling pig marinated in citrus, seasoned with achiote and slow-roasted until fall-apart tender. In the case of Malpaso´s cochinita, I´m pretty sure it was either pork shoulder or rump cooked until even the toughest ligaments denatured and melted in the mouth after just a few seconds of chewing. The orange in the marinade provided a wonderful fresh sweetness, which survived the roasting process, while the achiote gave it a beautiful bright orange color. I really enjoyed the combination of this sweet and spicy meat with the nutty flavor of the beans and the slightly autumnal, herby acidity of the onions. Each bite was great and when we eventually ran out of tortillas I had no problem eating the little hunks of meat right from the pot. I had a great time at Malpaso, scooping stuff up with soft corn tortillas and sipping a Catalan Garnatxa as my feet dangled playfully off a high stool by the window. The food is a tad pricy, but the ingredients are of good quality and the menu is inventive, especially considering how hard an attempt at Mexican fusion can crash and burn. The service is attentive, helpful and authentically friendly. I was curious about this place and was by no means disappointed.