mexican food 88.
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What do you get when you combine Mexican food, strict kosher dietary laws and a couple of families who recently emigrated to Israel? The answer is: Amigos Mexican Grille.
Located just off the midrahov (main street) in Zichron Ya'acov, four families opened the restaurant last December and it has become increasingly popular due to its authentic flavors.
The story behind the restaurant begins a little more than two years ago, when Hannah and Samuel Camhi decided to leave San Diego, California after 12 years and make aliya. The Camhi's are originally from Mexico City and found that they were unable to eat their favorite foods in Israel. Bringing back spices on every visit to the United States or Mexico and asking friends to shlep ingredients when they came to Israel was becoming a hassle. So when another Mexican-Jewish family from San Diego immigrated, the Camhis decided it was finally time to do something about the lack of tasty fare from Mexico.
After joining forces with Israeli businessman Alon Kliper, the three families decided to take advantage of an opportunity when an exclusive location became vacant. The spot on Rehov Hanadiv had previously been rented by a tenant who, for fifty years, sold children's toys from his store there. Upon moving into the location, the families faced two main challenges: Overcoming the legendary reputations of the store owners who were there before them, and abiding by the strict mehadrin kashrut laws which were insisted on by the building's religious owner.
Kosher Mexican food? Sounds odd, but these families were determined to make it work.
High quality kosher chicken, beef and, of course, fish became the central focus of the meals. A delicious homemade sauce called chipotle techina makes you quickly forget that sour cream or cheese ever existed. A mashgiah (kashrut supervisor) checks the kitchen twice a day: sifting flour, supervising the washing of the vegetables and checking all the deliveries, among other duties. And of course the restaurant has to shut its doors to observe Shabbat and Jewish holidays - major traffic days in the city. Ironically, the restaurant is situated between two dairy places: a popular ice cream shop and a pizza parlor, but that only leaves Amigos filling yet another niche.
FROM THEIR mouth-watering fish tacos to a stuffed-to-the-brims beef burrito (large tortilla which is rolled and folded) to a colorful chicken salad, there are options for everyone, including vegetarians who will enjoy the simchoni, a vegetable stir-fry with Spanish sauces. Side dishes are simple but tasty: Mexican-style corn-on-the-cob, spicy refried beans, guacamole, Spanish-style rice and churros are all flavored to perfection.
Amigos Mexican Grille is a vibrant and aromatic space decorated with sombreros and salsa music streaming through the speakers. There are just a few tables and chairs as the food is mainly designed for takeaway and home delivery. A display of homemade salsas and techinas guide you to the cash register where you order from a chalkboard menu displayed high on the wall. A large glass window allows you to see straight into the kitchen where everything is made to order. It's because of the freshness that busy days can equal a long wait period, but its well worth it for the moist carne asada (chicken) tacos, hot sautÃ©ed peppers and crispy tortilla chips.Around the time of the opening, Samuel's cousin Beto Metta and his wife Sandra moved to Israel and joined the Amigos team. Beto is the Operations Manager and is also preparing the restaurant to expand into a chain. The second location will hopefully open in the Tel Aviv area by early 2010. The menu is constantly expanding as the partners test new recipes with their Israeli chef and short order cooks. Amigos's owners want to keep the flavor Mexican but still appeal to the Israeli palate, an unusually challenging undertaking. The bestsellers and favorites of their regular Israeli clientele are undeniably the chicken dishes: tacos, burritos and salad. But Samuel thinks that's because the sound of "fish taco" sounds strange. He believes that once they taste a sample of the fish taco they will join the rankings of the converted.
The other strange and possibly new concept is that of the taco. Somewhere between a pita and a laffa, the flattened round tortilla can be made from flour or corn (perfect for Pessah!). Metta even created a poster explaining how to eat a taco: just fold the soft tortilla in half to turn it into a taco, angle the taco over the plate, tilt your head and take a big bite! Then use the fried tortilla chips to scoop up whatever falls out.
Amigos attracts buses full of foreign tourists on a daily basis who are looking for a change from days and sometimes weeks worth of pita and humus - for tourists who are homesick, a bite of a burrito will refuel their spirit. Amigos also attracts locals who are looking for a quick and tasty takeout either for lunch at work or dinner at home with the family, as well as Israeli tourists who are looking for something special to experience on their day trip to Zichron Ya'acov.
Amigos Mexican Grille, 15 Rechov Hanadiv, Zichron Ya'acov; (04) 629-2258