Note. This post originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Observer, September 2009.
Mad Mex touts its menu as “funky fresh Cal Mex,” and I must say, on that it does deliver. Mexican food purists, beware, you won’t find any dishes dripping in sauces or oozing with cheese. What exactly is California cuisine, and how will you find it on Mad Mex’s menu? In a word, fusion: Imagine a combination of Mexican flavors and California-fresh ingredients, with a couple of Asian influences thrown in for good measure.
Appetizers include a variety of salsa and dip options, such as hummus, Dos Equis cheese dip, and guac, all of which are served with locally made white, red, yellow, and blue corn tortilla chips. Be forewarned, however; if you want the quintessential chips and salsa to start your meal, you’ll have to ask for them and fork over the $2.75. Other starters include taquitos and loaded nachos.
Like any good restaurant that dares to call itself Mexican, Mad Mex offers an assortment of margaritas, sangrias, and south-of-the-border brews to quench your thirst, among more Americanized beverages. Look for the restaurant’s specialty margaritas, which change seasonally; during a recent trip at the end of September, I enjoyed an apple butter margarita, which, as the name suggests, tasted deliciously of apple and was rimmed with cinnamon sugar.
For an entrée, I personally enjoy Mad Mex’s quesadillas, which are served perfectly crispy and melty. Not only are the flavors of the dishes creative, but the names as well. I highly recommend both the black beanie quesadeenie (a spicy combination of black beans, pineapple, and cheese) and the happy hippie quesadilla (Mad Mex’s famous spicy spinach, pico de gallo, mushrooms, and cheese). Like most of their entrées, both can be ordered vegetarian, with your choice of meat (chicken, steak, or shrimp), or what used to be called “piggy sized” with double the meat. My Mad Mex dining companions over the years also have enjoyed the fajitas and burritos, particularly the wing-o-rito, which tastes remarkably like a tortilla-wrapped Buffalo wing.
If you’re still hungry after all that, desserts are available, of course with Mexican flair. Try an ice cream burrito or a Mexican chocolate brownie, both of which use ice cream made with Mexican vanilla and are dusted with cinnamon. Like every culture, Mexico also has its version of a doughnut, called a sopapilla, served here with either chocolate or honey.
Mad Mex has several locations throughout the Pittsburgh area; although I most frequently dine at the Robinson restaurant, my latest trip (and where these photos were taken) was to the newest location in Cranberry.