Taqueria Playa Tropical

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We have heard some pretty good things about this Mexican place in New Westminster. So when trying to satisfy a craving, we made this our lunching destination. On this hot of a day we were sweating outside and even more so indoors with the lack of air conditioning. We immediately recognized the challenges of having to eat this spicy of a cuisine in this hot of a heat. A challenge that was made more difficult with us having to sit and wait for water without any acknowledgement or service in the first 8 minutes of our visit.

The room was divided into two sections separated by a wide archway and the ability to have alcohol only in one. The walls were painted green, white, and red; true to their Mexican theme and flag. A theme that continued on in the music sounding and the media playing. Spanish pop songs blared overhead, majority of it sounded upbeat and angry. And videos of artist Pitbull performing live on all four of the televisions that surrounded the room.

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The art work from room to room differed. The main room with green walls had foiled metal art work, scenes of villages paths and water ways. The art in the secondary red room was done in oil, framed in wood. Colourful fruits and wild flowers, beside rich scenery brightly done to convey joyful emotions.

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The bar had a faux thatched roof giving it a very tropical vibe. With its select bottles and a smaller cooler it’s main offerings were limited.

There was no greeting when we entered, no hellos and no eye contact. This despite there being two staff members behind the bar, a few more chatting in the kitchen, and one on the phone. After we seated ourselves one server did eventually make her way to us with menus, a bowl of corn chips, and bottled dips in hand.

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The chips were decent. Served room temperature with two sauces, but with no dish to squeeze either in to. Both the red and green were on the spicier side, a spice hard to scale down when you have to squeeze the salsa directly onto the chip.

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“Enchiladas”, four soft corn tortillas rolled and filled with shredded chicken breast, covered in salsa verde, topped with melted cheese and sour cream, and served with a side of rice and beans. Each bite was soft and squishy thanks to the absorption of the liquid ingredients by the dough of the tortillas. A soggy bite that could have used some crunch. Maybe a deep fried component in the rolled enchiladas? A sprinkling of something hard on top? Though despite this the sauce was very flavourful, even with its one note taste it was good enough to finish.

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“Fajitas”, strips of steak sautéed with onions, green, yellow, and red bell peppers and topped with mozzarella cheese. Served with a side of rice as base and three corn tortillas for filling. As usual I wish for more guacamole then presented. The rice had a nice slightly crispy texture to it, but was left overcooked and dry in some chunks. Something I found out the hard way when I bit into a stale cluster. I felt there was an overwhelming amount of onion compared to the peppers and beef. Though the strips of steak I did get were all cooked well, and not to the point of becoming dry and crumbly. As a whole this was bland compared to the enchiladas, I needed the sauces that came with the chips for some kick.

It was nice that the chef came out to deliver the dishes he had prepared. Though this was after several dings of the order up bell being rung and going unheard. Overall I was unimpressed by the lack of service. Neither of the three that rotating their time between us and others checked back in after the initial contact. Several times we were left waiting. We repeatedly asked for napkins and put our hands up for refills of water. And even when we did get a hold of someone our requests went forgotten. Yes we didn’t approach our original server, but at this point we weren’t sure who was assigned to help us and whether we would even see them again. After all the girl who originally dropped off our menus ended the rest of our time there as the bartender shaking up cocktails. And no it wasn’t that busy that we would have been accidentally forgotten in the shuffle. It seems they all rather bus tables and speak with one other, then to tend to their patrons in need. They needed two employees to figure out how to rig a high chair, and another to run out for slurpees. I know people need help, breaks happen and rest is required, but it shouldn’t be so visible in front of their guests. The front of house servers often congregated in the second half of the restaurant, by the open kitchen, to converse with those running the back of house. With no visibility they missed customers walking in and were unavailable to assist those already seated. I unfortunately had a prime view of the above, and was able to watch in irritation as they sipped their slurpees while I waited for my bill.

As I eluded to, when it came time to pay there was a need to hunt for help. Were we suppose to find them? In the end we had to follow a staff member, stop them, and bring them to the counter, just have them ring our bill through so that we could leave. We originally asked who we believed was a kitchen member for help. Only because he passed by and heard my, “excuse me” call for assistance. Although it may not be his “job” he could have relayed the message to someone whose job it was, instead of saying “ok” and doing nothing. In the end I refused to chase anyone else down and have any more of my request for help go unheard. My guest was the one force to follow one of the waitress to the bar, to have her fill out the bill before him, and to have him bring it back to our table. Though even figuring out what we owed was a hassle. She had charged us $33 before taxes on two dishes that were listed as being $11 and $12. Maybe if she checked in on us more she would haven known what we had. I thought to myself, “How am I suppose to tip on service like this?” Luckily it was taken out of my hands as my guest paid for us both.

When a wave of new customers came in all at once I did notice the staff perking up and the level of their service improve. Other staff members became more visible, patrons looked better assisted. People were greeted and help was not asked for. Though dressed causally without any unifying accessory, a formal name tag, or an introduction you couldn’t be sure who was a server and what role did they play.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
My scoring is based more on the lack service than the average food and the standard setting. I truly believe the experience that the staff provide is just as important as the food prepared when dining out. We were left waiting, we felt ignored, and we were left struggling to get what we needed to leave. I have never seen such lackadaisical staff. The chime that sounded when the doors opened did help to drag staff away from their conversations with one another. But guests were still left waiting to be offered a seat. With no signs and no greetings customers stood idle, hoping someone working looked up long enough to make eye contact. And not that it was needed but there was a waiting list located at the opposite corner of the entrance, barely noticeable. With pen and clipboard it asked you to leave your name to see would get the next free table.
As for the food it was only made decent because of the circumstances surrounding it. We found our dishes not as rich in flavour as we have had at other places. Though quite authentic when comparing it to our last trip down to Mexico. For the portion and price we left happy. Don’t deny your cravings.

TAQUERIA PLAYA TROPICAL
334-6th Street, New Westminster BC, V3L3B1
604-544-5006
Taqueria Playa Tropical on Urbanspoon

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