Shanghai Restaurant Review: La Mesa

By Cristina Ng, May 27, 2019

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The Place

In one form or another, Ken Walker has been helping homesick expats in Shanghai find a taste of home since Bubba’s BBQ opened in Hongqiao in 2006. Sadly, Bubba’s exited the Shanghai dining scene, with Walker moving on to Tex-Mex and Mexican food at Jalapeno, which was then renamed Bordertown on Weihai Lu (now closed). After a brief hiatus, the Bordertown team is back in action with a casual stall within the More Than Eat Complex on Julu Lu. 

The Food

This time they’re not merely dipping their toes into the Rio Grande, but have taken inspiration from all over South America for a menu that spans the breadth of the region from tacos to empanadas and everything in between. 

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

You can’t go wrong starting out with a melty bowl of stringy Queso and Chips (RMB38). The hotter it is, the better it tastes, so don’t waste time with the underseasoned Guacamole (RMB38).

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Tacos (RMB28 for one or RMB50 for a pair) are an integral part of the menu, and there are plenty to choose from. Flour tortillas – filled with flavorful pork chorizo, mozzarella, refried beans, pineapple relish, marinated onion and avocado puree – are a clear success. The lengua (or beef tongue) tacos with spicy chili sauce, onion and cilantro are also quite moreish.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Chicken tinga is one of our favorite taco fillings, and La Mesa’s version, with pico de gallo, avocado puree, cabbage and marinated onions could benefit from more chipotle and less oil dripping dangerously off the end of the tortilla. 

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

While not exactly the same, their Mexican-Grilled Corn (RMB38) brings to mind hot summer days in Los Angeles nibbling on corn from a street cart, while mayonnaise and chili sauce dribbled down our chins. Here, the cheese is parmesan rather than cotijia (which is probably hard to source), and we’d welcome a heavy squeeze of lime and dash of chili powder.

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

La Mesa also offers a selection of meat skewers, and the New Zealand milk-fed Beef Tenderloin (RMB48/two) with piquant chimichurri sauce is as much a crowd-pleaser as it is a great deal.

Empanadas (RMB48/four) are different depending on the country, and while we are partial to Argentinian chicken ones with plenty of green chili and paprika, the spicy beef ones are satisfyingly encased in flaky pastry shell. Save this order for visits with groups of four or more – they’re filling. 

Image by Cristina Ng/That's

Taking a cue from Colombia and Venezuela,we encounter Street Stall Arepas (RMB48/two) that can be filled with spicy beef, chorizo or chicken, but we found the flat, unleavened corn patties to be quite stodgy. It was the only dish that was a true chore to finish; we left it behind.

Food Verdict: 2/3

The Vibe

La Mesa successfully provides a well-priced, laid-back experience in a high-end food court with friendly and efficient staff. The food begs for a margarita, yet the small space makes it impossible to stock a full bar, so you’ll have to make do with beer, wine, soft drinks or Farmhouse Juice. We know that the modest environment allows for incredibly fair prices, but we can’t help missing the wild mezcal and tequila-fueled nights spent at Bordertown. We’ll be back for tacos, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the appearance of some margarita machines.  

Vibe Verdict: 1/2

Total Verdict: 3/5

Price: RMB80-150 per person
Who’s going: convenience-loving, budget-watching diners
Good for: getting quick, spicy dinners in small groups

[Cover image by Cristina Ng/That's]

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See a listing for La Mesa. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews

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