Volume 95, Issue 76

Friday, February 15, 2002

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"Authentic" restaurant feels cheap and fake

Western gets ready for Purple Shorts

Like a rocket in your Pocket, these Dwellers bring the funk

Vagina opens up to the Western audience

Disc of the Week

Space rock takes flight in London

Rollerball = worst movie ever

Shits and Giggles

"Authentic" restaurant feels cheap and fake

Zapata's Restaurant
174 King Street

Two stars (out of five)

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

If the sign and menu for a restaurant both allude to "Authentic Mexican Cuisine," the least one might expect is an authentic Mexican meal.

Niru Somayajula/Gazette

But, as Zapata's Restaurant proves, you can't believe everything you read.

Zapata's opened Feb. 1 and has managed to draw the curious attention of many. New to King Street, however, the restaurant can't live up to the precedent set by its close neighbours.

With an interior resembling a cross between a cafeteria and a hotel lobby, Zapata's suffers from a serious lack of ambiance. Sporadic music fills the air, but only between uncomfortable silences. The wide open space proves too vast and the staff too small to adequately accommodate a diner's needs.

The menu is huge, boasting an assortment of dishes including "authentic" chicken, beef or fish items and not-so-authentic sounding sandwiches. Clearly, Zapata's needs to decide what kind of restaurant they want to be – if they're going for the authenticity, the menu and ambiance do not reflect this.

The unofficial slogan at Zapata's must be "ask waiter about availability." Once you ask about many of the items, the uninformed wait staff will most likely tell you it is not available, although it seems surprising that a restaurant only open for two weeks could already be out of stock.

The descriptions of the dishes are very literal – when the "Entremeses" (Appetizers) menu describes quesadillas ($5) as a flour tortilla with mozzarella cheese surrounded by salad, expect nothing more than Kraft Singles melted between tortillas and served over shredded lettuce.

Even worse, a meal at Zapata's could take a while – one can expect at least a half hour between appetizers and entrées. From the "Ensaladas" section, diners can choose from only two authentic-sounding salads. The Ensalada de Nopales ($6.50) is a cactus salad that tastes more like a green bean salad.

Among the variety of Zapata's specialty tacos, the beef floutas are described as entrées, but are definitely not a meal on their own. The chicken enchiladas de mole ($7.50) are better, but the overbearing mole gravy is smothering.

Other options include a Chiles Poblanos de Queso o Carne ($10.50), a dish of green pepper and egg dipped and filled with cheese or ground beef topped with house tomato sauce.

The huge variety of Mexican sandwiches stands in stark contrast to the otherwise semi-Mexican menu. A smaller, more specific menu could solve the problem of the staff's inability to supply what is offered.

The menu makes the food appear very reasonably priced, but, given the small portions and bland tastes, the quality does not reflect the prices. The $6.95 Margarita is the most overpriced item on the menu, as the small drink is alcholically-overbearing, but under-flavoured overall – certainly not worth seven bucks.

The desserts, such as the caramel flan, may sound good, but will probably be – like many other dishes – unavailable. Don't opt for the cold, crunchy rice pudding or the apple pie, which is only worth $3.99 for the ice cream on top.

Despite its flaws, what Zapata's lacks in delivering, they make up for in heart.

Owner and Chef Lilia Morales is friendly, approachable and determined to satisfy everyone. Small touches, like the salsa dishes and mural art, improve the atmosphere of Zapata's, but are simply not enough to salvage the dining experience.

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