It may not always seem like it from my reviews, but I genuinely want to like every restaurant I try. I think there's a common misconception that food critics like to, well, criticize. Maybe some life-hating critics go out in pursuit of a bad meal so they can rip a chef to shreds, but I think most of us are foodies trying to have as many fantastic culinary experiences as possible and share them with others.
So I really wanted to like Mijares. I went on a Sunday night and there was live mariachi music. The guitars and trumpets brought me back to the restaurant I always had Mexican food at with my family as a child. Back then, I was terrified of all strangers (actually, that hasn't changed a whole lot) and would hide under the table if the mariachi men got anywhere near us. This despite one of the main things I remember about them being what warm smiles they had. But as an adult, I think there are few better surprises than good, live music when I go out to eat.
In addition to live music some nights, Mijares has the chaotic, plate-clanking, tequila-fueled hustle and bustle and din generally found in American Mexican restaurants (or Chili's) along with plenty of screaming children. At least the music and the Cuervo drown them out somewhat.
The albondigas, a simple soup of meatballs in a yellowy-clear broth, was quite good. If I went back to Mijares, I would order this again. I love the richly flavored soup and the loose texture of the meatballs--they look sort of like the Vietnamese meatballs you'd find in a bowl of pho, but instead of being packed so tightly I think they would bounce off if I threw them against a wall, the Mexican equivalent crumbles gently in your mouth as you chew it. I think I might have liked the albondigas at Tia Juana's better, but that restaurant is gone now.
The beef in the burrito had a slimy, wet texture and little flavor. The other ingredients didn't make up for the savory shortfall.
The beef fajitas tasted mysteriously like Chinese food. Maybe I just like more lime juice in my fajita marinade than Mijares uses, but if I wanted Chinese food, that's what I would have gone out for. Not Mexican. Apparently lots of people like the restaurant's totally ordinary, overly sweet margaritas, too, enough to vote them "best margarita in Pasadena." They do serve the thick tortilla chips I like, but the salsa has barely a hint of spice and the guacamole is nothing special. The refried beans, to appease the ever-health-conscious southern Californian, are made without lard, which in this case makes them exceptionally bland.
The thing that makes me sad is that this restaurant, according to its website, is apparently somewhat of a Pasadena institution. It has been family owned for three generations. I guess Pasadena isn't known for its Mexican population, and of course, fajitas are downright Tex-Mex (I should know better than to order Tex-Mex in the wrong state). I want to tell you that this restaurant that has been around for 85 years is terribly charming and that the food tastes like it came straight out of the kitchen of the Mexican grandmother everyone wishes they had. Did I order poorly? Did I visit on an off-night? It's possible. I want to tell you to try this restaurant, but you could get better Mexican food in my kitchen. I'm not Mexican, but I do know how to cook.
Mijares Mexican Restaurant
145 Palmetto Dr., Pasadena
Monday - Thursday: 11am to 9pm
Friday, Saturday: 11am to 10pm
Sunday: 9:30 to 10pm
Sunday Brunch: 9:30 to 2pm