How to Judge a Mexican Restaurant: The Chile Relleno Test

Serious Heat

Andrea Lynn, senior editor of Chile Pepper magazine, shares thoughts and observations from the fiery food world.

Note: On Wednesdays, Andrea Lynn, senior editor of Chile Pepper magazine, drops by with Serious Heat.



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?