Text by Scott Huntsman??Photographs by Felicia Jones
A common question for foreigners in China - “Do you like Chinese food?” - inevitably makes me chuckle because it’s hard to find a person on earth who doesn’t like Chinese food, and I can’t imagine any of those rare people choosing to live in China. However, if I’m asked my favorite cuisine of all, my answer will still usually elicit a look of disappointment from the Chinese asker: Mexican food. During this all-too-common exchange, I will explain that when living in Los Angeles, I did eat Chinese food as much as three times a week, but delicious Mexican food at cheap prices can be found everywhere, so it’s hard not to eat it almost every day. In Southern California, more than half of residents are Latino, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Chinese food doesn’t traditionally include dairy at all. In fact, every dairy product seems fairly new to China (unless you count eggs), amplified by the fact that so many Chinese people (even those living in America) are lactose intolerant. Upon moving to China, I found the most glaring new void in my life was cheese. And the few Mexican restaurants that had arrived in China years ago were understandably miserly with cheese, an expensive import that finds meager demand in the Chinese market.
Over the past month, the Beijing expat community has been buzzing due to a flood of new Mexican restaurants, led by upscale Q-Mex (complete with a real Mexican chef), and Lucky Lopez, a clone of the American chain, Chipotle. These new additions to the increasingly diverse array of cuisines available in Beijing bring new competition to established spots that have been serving Mexican for years, such as Luga’s Villa, Sand Pebble Lounge, and Pete’s Tex-Mex.
Q-Mex is nestled in a dark corner of Beijing’s Sanlitun South Street, where a handful of upscale foreign eateries are concentrated, including an American pizzeria, a Spanish restaurant, and several Western-style bars. Certainly upscale compared to the majority of Beijing restaurants, even those serving foreign cuisine, a Q-Mex margarita will cost 50 yuan (almost US $10), but the homesick will quickly cough up the cash for such a treat.