Note: This is one of my assignments for my Travel Writing course in Prague, where I had been studying for 4 months. We were prompted to write about a food experience we had had in Europe, and I chose to focus on an incredible Mexican restaurant in Prague called Las Adelitas.
Americká has great Mexican food. This particular street in Prague 2 is littered with residential complexes and several small restaurants, but the true standout among these buildings is Las Adelitas, which serves authentic and traditional Mexican dishes. Finding a place like Las Adelitas had been a godsend. For me, afternoons in high school had been spent eating full plates of freshly made tacos con papas and horchata courtesy of my friend Melissa’s Mexican mother, Cuca. Cuca’s kitchen had become a favorite spot for our group, who would constantly request to meet at Melissa’s home before anywhere else because being served a homemade meal was a consistent offer whenever we showed up with our growling stomachs and pleading eyes.
For American travelers, who may or may not have the same emotional connection to the cuisine as I have, missing the luxury of having quick, delicious, and affordable Mexican food available at home is not necessarily a thought that passes one’s mind before preparing to leave the country. “Mexican food is something I didn’t realize I’d miss until it was gone,” remarks Kaitlyn McGraw, an American graduate student from Missouri who has spent her semester teaching in Vilseck, Germany. Before traveling to Prague, McGraw had heard “horror stories” about the quality of Mexican food available in Europe. “[Las Adelitas] was a pleasant surprise. It offered a comfortable, familiar environment alongside excellent cuisine.”
Creating a comfortable and home-like environment had been the original intention of David Zamorano and his co-owners when they began this restaurant three years ago. Zamorano had moved to Prague from Mexico City in 2005 to continue his education as a film student. Inspired by homesickness and a desire for familiarity, the same emotions that pull tourists like McGraw and myself into the restaurant, Zamorano and his friends began a delivery service that became wildly popular, leading them to establish the actual restaurant. “Since I came here, there was that empty spot to fill for authentic Mexican [cuisine],” states the restauranteur.
The interior of Las Adelitas is reminiscent of a dining room in a close friend’s home with it’s soft lighting and convivial vibe. Upon descending the staircase at the entryway, this hole-in-the-wall destination appears quite small with only a few tables and a small bar in the back. A tiny hallway leads to another room with even more seating available for the establishment which can be packed with reservations on any given night of the week. The dark wood of the tables, which features multi-colored mosaic patterns on the surface, as well as the black-and-white pictures that cover the walls give the restaurant an old-fashioned and lived-in look. Just as one would do when visiting a close friend, patrons help elevate the atmosphere to a raucous level as the day grows to a close as they sit for hours enjoying the food and company.
The decor, however, only serves as proper accompaniment to the flavorful dishes that are served in a decorative manner yet retain the heartiness and authenticity of a home-cooked meal. The recipes come directly from the traditions of the owners’ families, and this fact comes across with every bite. The quesadillas, which resemble a pocket-like empanada rather than the common appearance of the flat and often circular dish, are particularly popular and delicious. The home-made horchata and lemonade rival Cuca’s recipes. Everything tastes fresh and is extremely filling, which makes the usual price range of 150-200 korun for a meal more than worth it.
Zamorano sees very little competition in Prague surfacing in terms of serving truly authentic Mexican cuisine. Ex-staff members have opened their own restaurants trying to copy the structure but have very little luck imitating the familiar and home-like vibe of Las Adelitas. Even some Mexican fast food chains have popped up around the city, including the 24-hour eatery Burrito Loco, which is adjacent to Bohemia Bagel near Old Town Square. The existence of other popular Mexican restaurants, like Cantina, does not persuade the owner from having any other opinion; Zamorano is adamant that his restaurant is the only genuinely traditional establishment in town. Certainly there are very few customers of his who would disagree with this sentiment.
The existence of this particular eatery and the quality of the food is truly an anomaly for Central Europe since quesadillas and burritos are as far from fried cheese and schnitzel as one can get. While succeeding in providing authenticity, Zamorano and his co-owners have also succeeded in bringing a piece of their original home to their new one. Much like the large amount of tourists and expats who make their way to this popular restaurant, Zamorano had been searching for something that he could relate to on a personal level. “When we first came [to Prague], we would dream of finding a place that served food like this,” he muses. “Instead, we made a place ourselves.” While it will be another month before I can enjoy tasty treats from Cuca’s kitchen, there’s a reassuring comfort in knowing that something so close to my heart can be found so far away from the source.