A slight stroll from Sofia’s Vitosha Boulevard is a very un-European eatery, a Tex-Mex restaurant named Amigos ("friends"). Open just a month, it has already attracted the attention of expatriates who have been longing for Mexican cuisine, absent in Bulgaria until now. (That booth in the mall does not count.)
Lunchtimes tend to be quiet at Amigos; however, this is a nice contrast to rowdy weekend evenings and days leading up to the weekend. Lunches are more family-friendly, whereas the needed evening reservation conveys the fun party atmosphere.
The restaurant’s interior is a bit dark, tavern-like, as the windows are shaded; music is played a bit too loudly, a blend of hard rock and Latino tunes. The walls are white- and black-painted stone, interspersed with wooden planks, and adorned with metal posters, of Corona beer and Jack Daniel’s, and decorative red chilies. The tables are covered in woven blankets, in various colours and stripes, giving it a gaucho feel, but it does make one wonder about the inevitable spills and stains, and how they will be cleaned, as woollen blankets cannot be boiled! The main room has a large fireplace, and a raised level with a fence and faux windows; through an archway is the non-smoking second room, which also leads to the nippy toilets down below.
Servers are exceptionally friendly, and speak English, quickly offering to explain the menu options to those who are unfamiliar, while also bringing free pico de gallo or fresh tomato salsa and crunchy homemade tortilla chips as soon as you are seated. Orders arrive quickly, with courses usually served all at once.
The more Texan part of the bilingual menu offers a number of gourmet burgers with a price tag of 10 leva and up, as well as baby-back ribs (14-24 leva), ribeye steaks (30-35 leva), the only fish on the menu, Bourbon salmon, and the most expensive item overall, the Texas-certified Angus beef T-bone steak (39 leva). A number of salads are available (five-15 leva), with the dressings being store-bought, American-style: Caesar, ranch, thousand island, honey mustard. However, I have not sampled any of these Texan items, as my interest is in the Mexican food, which I enjoyed while living in southern California.
The menu devotes a whole page explaining the history of "Tex-Mex" cuisine, and offers all the Mexican basics (with a sentence per item describing its components): bowl of chili, taquitos, quesadillas, soft tacos, hard-shell tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, chimichangas and fajitas, all with your choice of chicken or beef; most are accompanied by a choice of two of the many side dishes.
The beef mainly is ground, and the chicken, small squares of white meat, although the meat quantity is meagre. All the soft tortillas, corn tacos, tortilla chips, etc, are hand-made in-house and perfectly authentic. As there are no sizes (grammes) mentioned on the menu, it is hard to guess how big a dish will be.
Burritos (15 leva) are huge, arriving filled with meat, rice, refried beans, chopped onions, cheese and shredded lettuce, but in this state they are somewhat empty. Hence there are side dishes, which must be placed inside to plump it up, giving completeness. Once the additional rice and beans are inside and by adding the fresh tomato salsa, guacamole and sour cream, the burrito becomes genuine with texture of chunky pieces encircled with creamy, delightful avocado and sour cream. A burrito should usually reach its customer in this complete state, but I suppose the restaurant wants you to see the ingredients to believe them and appreciate them.
A cheese quesadilla (nine leva) comes with sides of guacamole, sour cream and fresh salsa, and is delicious. The frijoles (refried beans) are authentically made with pinto beans, and the resulting taste is superb, with some of the beans being softer and mashed up, and some firmer, as they should be, providing great texture for the palate. The Mexican rice is coloured with tomato paste and an odd green pea, though the taste is bland, and only suitable as a stuffing, not by itself. The fresh guacamole is generous with avocado and lime juice, and of good consistency and flavour.
A notable hindrance at Amigos is the lack of spices; chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper were all not felt. Fresh jalapeños are usually available as a side, but one must ask for them; on the other hand Tabasco sauce and Jack Daniel’s barbeque sauce are at each table. The essential fresh cilantro (leaf of coriander) is used in the salsa when accessible, but it is difficult to find in Bulgaria and replaced by parsley when not. If you eat your dish as served, you will not have the accurate Tex-Mex experience, and to achieve it you must work to get your spices: ask, open, apply and so forth.
Amigos offers the ultimate Mexican beer, Corona (4.90 leva for a 330 ml bottle), classically served with a wedge of lime in the bottle’s neck, ready for you to push it down, creating a bubbling effect, perfectly accompanying the Mexican dishes. Other drinks include Margaritas, sangrias and bourbon. Desserts are fried ice cream (four leva), and homemade brownie fudge sundae (five leva). At the end of your meal, the bill is delivered in a fun "your money or your life" style, by being tucked into a wooden (decorative) pistol.
Amigos has made a good start, and shows much potential, namely by ensuring spices, being more generous with the meat and improving the décor. For a 14 leva burger or 15 leva burrito, clients deserve a higher level of care and detail in the food, and surroundings. Still, it is quite momentous and thrilling that Sofia now offers Tex-Mex.
Price $$$ ($ up to 12 leva a person for three courses; $$ 12 to 20 leva pp; $$$ 20 to 35 pp; $$$$ 35 and over pp)
12 Kurnigradska Str, Sofia
Tel:02/ 981 13 53
Open: from 10am; kitchen closes at 10 pm, restaurant at 11pm
Credit cards: yes