Six years is a relative eon here in Beijing. A census of the city’s F&B outlets of that bygone age of 2012 would now read more like a memorial, such is the turnover in this often unforgiving environment. It takes resilience to survive, and something more to thrive – all things considered, that’s exactly what Q Mex has managed to do in those intervening years.
Our initial 2012 review that followed our first visits to the Sanlitun bar and grill spoke of a passionate chef peddling promising Mexican fare, but in a setting plagued by ‘appalling service’ and even mosquitoes. But out of the chaos of those days has come what is probably one of the most successful and established names in the city dining game.
Now under the control of the equally passionate US-Mexican chef Marcus Medina, the burritos, tacos and fajitas that the place built its rep on are still so consistently reliable, and while a little less delicate than, say, The Taco Bar around the corner, they are evidently crowd-pleasing (us included). The in-your-face indulgence of the burritos – we back the eponymous Q Mex with barbecue beef – won’t be what the doctor ordered, but it is exactly what you came for.
Medina has also introduced a wider range of entrées and sharing plates to the menu – chowders, a refreshing ceviche, chips, dips and more – that largely hit the mark, while a new range of traditional desserts are enjoyable finales. The holy trinity of milk in the tres leches cake – dulce de leche, evaporated milk and cream, in case you were wondering – comes across as deceptively light at first bite, but don’t be fooled: this is peak indulgence, and it’s tasty AF.
Beyond the trusty Mexican fare, Q Mex has also made waves in its moves into burgers and pizzas: the recently launched taco burger (taste the fusion!) is among Beijing’s best, if you’re a guac fan, while the range of crispy, thin-based pies are also fair contenders in their field. They do, however, take the menu to an encyclopaedic length.
The ‘something for everyone’ approach might not actually be for everyone, but a lot of people are clearly loving it; we would, however, opt more regularly for the stronger conceptual focus and all-round calmer experience of the newer, glossier relative, Q Mex Taqueria
, and its exclusively Central and South American menu.
But this is a bar and grill, after all, and a bar and grill must aim to please, and build a faithful following. The wide-reaching menu is backed by a packed schedule of deals – half-priced burrito Mondays, pizza Tuesdays, nacho Wednesdays, Thursday's 'Meatlovers Fiesta' and all-day happy hours until 9pm – while hugely popular weekly pub quizzes, pool tournaments and live music all help in bringing back the regulars.
Service is nowhere near 'appalling' these days – it’s by no means standout, but the staff do seem to cope very well with the hordes of customers 'fuwuyuan
'-ing them from all angles. Q Mex's main faults are likely to be found in its setting: it can get extremely busy and loud here (expect to queue for your Mex), the ceiling in its deeper corners feels a little claustro, and the general decor is rather long in the tooth, though we’re told a now much-needed interior revamp is due later in 2018. Again, the Taqueria
offers a calmer, yet still vibey experience, while the third Q Mex outlet, just opened in Shuangjing, will likely bring new buzz to the southern expat enclave.
Fine dining or even particularly astounding casual food Q Mex is not. But with a group of friends in tow and a desire to kick back with thoroughly decent and reasonably priced sustenance, it is an ever-reliable, crowd-pleasing choice – one of the most reliable out there, really.