Chile Pepper magazine's editorial assistant Aurora Nessly had family in town recently and casually mentioned their chile relleno test to find worthy Mexican restaurants. "Chile relleno test?" I asked, clearly intrigued.
It's simple, she said. Let's say a Japanese restaurant is judged by the quality of its udon noodles, or a French bakery judged by the crust and taste of their baguette. Well, in Aurora's family, the true test of the quality of a Mexican restaurant has always been the chile relleno.
"You know when you get that first bite of a relleno, you will either be blissfully appeased or sorely disappointed," she said.
There can be a number of flaws in a relleno. Too much crust (and a soggy one at that!) or a filling made with inferior cheese. Though there are a number of variations on the relleno—some are stuffed with meat, others covered in a tomato sauce—the core elements are still the crust, the roasted pepper, and the filling. When any of these elements goes awry, the dish falters, according to Aurora.
And a faulty chile relleno is not a good sign for the restaurant.
I thought back on my own past Mexican restaurant experiences. I've always been a sucker for a chile relleno (for years it was my go-to order). I can't count the number of restaurants that plop a canned green chile on a plate smothered with ground beef and cheese and call it a chile relleno.
So the test makes sense. After all, don't I assume that a good Chinese restaurant starts with a worthy hot and sour soup?
Has anyone else ever used the chile relleno test (or a similar one) to weed out good Mexican restaurants from the bad? Or, do you have another test for the quality of other ethnic restaurants?
About the author: Andrea Lynn is senior editor for Chile Pepper magazine, where she not only creates a wide range of zesty recipes for readers, but also participates in numerous tastings for hot sauce, salsa, and other spice-laden products (even chocolate!). Her favorite chile? A tie between the mild yet flavorful poblano and the mighty, reliable fire of the serrano.