Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Los Tres Magueyes: "Service? We Don't Need No Stinking Service!"

Once upon a time, I was trying to write a doctoral dissertation. And like many would-be writers before me, I chose a coffee shop to blankly stare at the screen of my Macbook Pro--Caribou Coffee in Cary. For almost a month, I drove down, found a seat in the store, spread out my research, and tried to think of an idea that would please my dissertation advisor (spoiler alert: none of them did). Across the street was Los Tres Magueyes. So a few months ago, a friend suggested dinner there on a Saturday night.

Now here’s the thing about fat guys (gay “bear” types especially): we travel in packs—large, hairy sleuths. So imagine several fat guys walking into a restaurant with three tables and the rest of the seating as booths. The hostess wanted to put us in a corner booth…one that would have made me channel my inner Lilias Folan to slide into…and I was the smallest of the guys in the party.

…So we went elsewhere for dinner.

However, I wanted to get some fodder to write about. Since I’m trying to break out of patterns, I’ve learned about Urbanspoon’s “shake” feature. Imagine a fat man’s dream slot machine. Select an area of the city, select a genre/category, select a price range…and shake—random selections. I locked in for a one-dollar sign restaurant in Cary, and Los Tres Magueyes came up. Why not?

The space is small and cramped. I wasn’t just having a bad memory from hunger when I went in yesterday. Seating is mostly booths, with a few free-standing tables. The décor…is colorful…if by “colorful” you mean that Disney World’s Enchanted Tiki Room and a Chi-Chi’s had a tacky baby. Mexican art blends with bright colors and parrots in a sensory assault that makes you wonder if there’s not LSD in the salsa.

I was seated fast, and a waitress had a menu in front of me within moments of my arrival…as well as a demand for my order. I barely had time to look at the menu (much less find the lunch specials) before she wanted my order. After bartering for a moment of time, I settled in on the fajita burrito and turned my attention to the chips and salsa.

When I do ethnic food, I try to use some kind of dish as a baseline—a means to compare restaurants fairly. With Mexican places, salsa (or if I’m looking to agitate my colon, queso) is usually my baseline. And I’ll give Los Tres Magueyes this—the salsa is decent. It’s largely a tomato puree with onions, cilantro, and spices, but at least it’s fresh and not the soupy, cooked stuff. The fajita burrito was also good. Obviously, the meat was pre cooked, to make lunch service faster, but the spicing was solid, and it didn’t taste like it was in a warmer all afternoon. They’re at least taking measures to keep it moist. The burrito is served “wet” style, with queso and a red sauce poured over it. The rice was average. There was a little hint of tomato and spices in it, but nothing special. At the same time, it wasn’t bad.

I was about ready to order a tres leches cake when my waitress walked by with a fresh drink and my check. Before I could even order the cake, she walked out the door facing the street. So I waited….and waited… After five minutes, it was obvious that she wasn’t out on a smoke break, and my meal was over. Not a good way to conclude the experience.  This was further compounded when the guy at the register acted like checking me out was a chore that interrupted him from other things.

In spite of a lukewarm first impression, I went back to Los Tres Magueyes on a whim, and I’m largely ambivalent here. The food’s okay, the décor looks like a Mexican Willy Wonka film, but the human factor is just lacking. From my waitress leaving in mid-meal to the surly cashier, poor service just brings anything they could bring to the table.

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