Just as Tokyo is known for its lack of quality basashi, so too is its lack of decent Mexican food widely acknowledged.
Thus it was that when a colleague of Mexican descent mentioned Yotsuya’s Salsa Cabana I had high hopes. Upon reflection I should have, perhaps, noted his focusing upon the nomihodai drink menu rather than the food…
Just a few minutes walk from Yotsuya station, and just a few doors up the street from the Yotsuya Brewery and just a block down from Shuotan, Salsa Cabana is a fairly cheap, and for the most part cheerful (see later paragraph on alcohol consumption) offering. The restaurant (2nd floor if memory serves) is divided into three parts. Two main rooms on either side of the stair well – the main dining area complete with kitchen etc., is rather basic and off to one side has an open air deck (2nd part) which might be fun in summer – while the third, more “oshare” (but only barely so) room is on the left of the stairs.
The décor is simple, not worthy of mention, although the room on the left of the stairs has that rather funky smooth white plaster wall look that reminds of Luke Skywalker’s childhood home, or the once famous Nottingham nightclub, The Bomb. Anyhow, you’ll not be visiting for the décor…
… Or the food for that matter. For the most part they serve up small, greasy, ill considered approximations of Mexican food. To be fair, the main menu seems to offer somewhat better dishes than the party plan mush I endured on both (yes, I fell for it twice) occasions, but on the whole it is paltry, not a patch on the delightful stuff served up at Nakameguro’s Junkadelic.
The party plan starts off with some nachos with guacamole, tomato dip, gherkins and shredded carrot. Sure it’s edible but hardly excites. Certainly it causes one to pause. “What next?” you find yourself wondering. Uninspired salad, of lettuce, cucumber, onion and tomato is the answer. Next?
Booze. The nomihodai plan is ridiculously cheap and provided a wide choice of tipples, ranging from tequila, rum, gin and vodka-based indulgencies, to wine, beer and assorted liqueurs. If like me you have a need enjoy your drink this is probably the only high note on an otherwise miserable dining experience. Indeed, on both visits I found my usual lack of alcohol tolerance to have fled (along with my appetite) enabling me to polish off a pitcher or two of luke warm beer and no less that twelve, strong, G&Ts. Not without a fight though…
The staff are a pain. Young, inattentive, and uniformly unable to comprehend that for the average gaijin, nomihodai is a challenge, not a boon. Order a pitcher of beer for yourself (wise, as it’ll be an hour or more before you catch the eye of a waiter again) and they complain that it’ll go flat before you finish it (rubbish, it goes down in a matter of minutes). Order cocktails at a rate of more than one every ten minutes and they start giving you dirty looks. On my second visit, we ended up stuck in the third, empty, section of the restaurant off to the left of the stairs (while the other was packed with several groups of revellers) and had to get up and walk to the other side of the place ourselves to return glasses and order drinks. On that occasion, when I ordered three pitchers (knowing I’d be collecting my pension before we met with the waiter again) the cheeky so and so had the cheek to bring just one. Even when I explained that I said three he ignored me and looked to my Japanese dining partner for solace (thankfully he too had a thirst and supported my rightful indignation).
Anyway, be warned. The drink all you can take plan is good, but you have to make sure you can take full advantage of it. One major problem is that the staff pays far more attention to the large groups of diners that frequent the place (it’s cheap and lends itself to company nights out) than they do smaller groups. You’ll literally be forgotten, or ignored at worst.
Grumble over, back to the food (heaven forefend). As you’ve no doubt guessed, some oily tortillas, enchilada, and fajita. Passable, in the “better than eating at Watami” sense, but only just.
Avoid like the plague. For decent Mexican food go to Junkadelic. For cheap booze, lighter fluid will probably suffice.