Though I don’t eat Mexican food very often, it’s something I’m quite fond of. Or at least I’m fond of the stuff called Mexican food in Utah. I can’t vouch for its authenticity. From what I understand, what I enjoy is probably more properly referred to as Tex-Mex. But regardless of what you call it, ever since I moved to the southeast region of the United States three years ago, I have discovered a fundamental difference between the Mexican-inspired dishes you’ll find in any Utah restaurant and those exact “same” dishes as prepared and served in Atlanta or Tallahassee. The difference? The kind of cheese they use. And that is a very important difference.
Having lived in Salt Lake City for nearly 28 years, I’ve eaten in many Utah Mexican restaurants. And what did I order almost every time I visited one of these establishments? Cheese enchiladas. As a child, I considered these my favorite food of all, ranking them above even that most sacred of child-friendly delicacies, pizza. And never once did I order a cheese enchilada in Utah and receive a tortilla stuffed with white American cheese. No way, Jose! And I would have remembered if I had, because it would not have been a very pleasant experience. But as soon as I moved to Atlanta, that is all I have seen. Granted, I’ve only eaten at maybe five or six Mexican restaurants in Georgia and Florida combined, but in each case, cheddar cheese was nowhere to be found. (Unless you count Moe’s Southwest Grill, which I don’t. And even they put a soupy “queso” sauce on their nachos rather than melted cheddar. But I’m only concerned with full scale restaurants here, so forget them.) The problem with American cheese—and my most recent waiter told me that’s what they use, so I’m not just guessing—is that it’s so fake. Well, it exists, obviously, but it tastes phony. Prepackaged. Blasé. Desagradable.
I assume Atlanta and Tallahassee are far enough apart to ensure that this is not unique to the few Mexican restaurants I have happened to try between the two cities. It must be a regional difference. But what a sad, sad difference it is. It’s one of the most lamentable aspects of my having moved across the country. Qué pena!