As humans, we are wired to make judgments based off first impressions. There is no difference when it comes to walking into a restaurant. If the place is clean, decorated, dirty or old, customers take notice. Not only do they notice, but their opinion of the restaurant is already predetermined despite the fact that they have not even touched a menu yet.
Before I talk about the food at Mad Mex, I need to analyze the website. As a communications major and a marketing minor, the way companies represent themselves is always interesting to me. Mad Mex starts with its “Funky Fresh Cal-Mex” reputation, new summer cocktails and their blog. As a customer, I think it is smart for its homepage to have the food options, alcoholic drinks (because let’s face it, most people go to Mad Mex for its drinks) and its blog, which makes it different from other restaurants. Mad Mex has seven locations in Pittsburgh; one location in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania; three locations in Philadelphia; one location in Columbus; and a location coming to Erie, Pennsylvania, soon. Each location link includes food, drafts, booze and an option to order online for takeout. If your restaurant has takeout, that automatically makes your establishment more desirable — at least in my opinion, because I am lazy and would rather pick up and eat at my house. Customers can also order t-shirts and gift cards online as well as check the balance on the gift card. Lastly, customers can sign up to be on the email list, and let’s be honest, who does not want a complimentary lunch special as well as a burrito birthday card?
Mad Mex immediately struck me as a fun, authentic environment. Inside, there were Christmas lights (but in the shape of hot peppers), lots of tequila bottles, as well as other decorations and art that immediately make you think “Mexico.” However, it’s an American restaurant that mixes the cuisines of Mexico, Southeast Asia and Spain. This is a unique combination that gives the restaurant a little bit of an edge. As a bonus, the chefs make everything from scratch, daily.
Let’s get to the good stuff — the food. Mad Mex is known for its margaritas. Unfortunately I am not old enough to comment on that, but if lots of people say it, it is probably true. You will just have to try one for yourself! For me, there are two types of Mexican places: fake ones (Taco Bell) and authentic ones. Mad Mex is worthy of the latter description. You can usually tell if they are the real deal if you are given chips and dip before you even order your drinks. While Mad Mex doesn’t bring them out right away, it earns its legitimacy with an entire section of the menu dedicated to salsa and other dips before the appetizers. After salsa and dips there are appetizers, soups and chilis, wings, salads, burritos, enchiladas, la chimi, quesadillas, fajitas, tacos, wraps and tortas, and desserts. The choices were overwhelming.
I decided to go with the taco salad. Before you judge me for just getting a salad, this was not just a salad. This salad had beef, pico de gallo, roasted peppers, onions, jalapenos, and cheese, piled over iceberg lettuce, served in a crispy, edible sombrero. Salsa and sour cream were on the side. So basically it’s just a taco that’s easier to eat. The spicy beef, peppers and jalapenos made the salad lively. The sour cream and lettuce balanced out the spiciness and cooled it off. The cherries on top of the sundae (but not really) are the pico de gallo and cheese, because you can never have too much of either and they made this dish that much more delicious. Needless to say it was amazing; the appearance was creative, all the ingredients were on point, and it was only $10.75.
I recommend everyone go eat at Mad Mex, especially if you are 21 or older! The prices are reasonable, the staff was friendly, the atmosphere is lively and the food passed expectations. At the University City location food is half off with a valid student ID Monday-Thursday from 2-4 p.m. and every night 11 p.m.-1 a.m. So what are you waiting for?