We couldn’t miss a chance for more Chinese food during our trip to Mexicali over Thanksgiving weekend. Our baseball game Saturday night and our early departure Sunday morning left us only one chance, at lunchtime Saturday. We were staying at Hotel Araiza on Boulevard Bénito Juárez, so we chose Restaurante Dragon, which was just a few minutes up the street on foot.
Compared to the two other Chinese restaurants we’ve visited in Mexicali, Dragon is huge even before you get in the place. Although Kathryn and I walked there, it was hard not to notice the ample parking, which was almost completely empty when we arrived for an early lunch at shortly after 11 am. If I were to arrive in Mexicali during prime dining hours, the size of the parking lot could be a deciding factor. The otherwise bored parking attendant made himself useful by opening the door for us.
Once inside, the dining area at Dragon was sprawling. A few other diners were there, but none long enough to have a main dish in front of them. We were given a prime table, which is to say we had a view of a television showing a soccer match. We could also see most of the rest of the dining room, which was great for people watching when the place started to fill up.
Like most of the servers in Mexicali, our server at Dragon spoke almost no English, but eventually I was able to get the beer I wanted, a nice quart of Tecate, by pointing at the menu and then, in utter desperation, at another table.
For what it’s worth, I now know and will likely never forget the word caguama, which is what they call the quart bottles of beer. After doing some research later, I discovered that caguama refers to a certain species of sea turtle, one that apparently bears an uncanny resemblance to these beer bottles after you’ve personally emptied several and tipped them on their sides.
This quart of Tecate was accompanied by a small bowl of sliced limes, which was a nice touch. After a quick “Cheers!” and a clink of the glasses, lunch was off to a good start.
Next up was a half-order of carnitas coloradas we ordered as an appetizer. I have no idea what’s in the red marinade that covers the tender pork, but it’s slightly sweet and slightly spicy. We prepared a small dish of ketchup and mustard as we’ve watched others do and used it as a sort of dipping sauce. Wait, ketchup on pork? Trust me, it only sounds horrible until you try it.
By the way, nobody uses chopsticks at the Chinese restaurants in Mexicali. I haven’t even seen a chopstick here. I’ve looked through hundreds of online photos of happy diners of all ages, sexes, and races, and the only time I thought I saw a chopstick, I looked closer and it turned out to be a pencil. They use forks here, like God intended. Maybe they have chopsticks if you ask, but my knuckles drag slightly further from the ground when I use a fork, so I’m content not to know.
Before we managed to finish our delicious trough of pork, our main dish arrived, carne de res mongol, or Mongolian beef. Although the flavors were great and the vegetables were cooked well, the meat was a little tough for our taste. It was the only off note of our meal at Restaurante Dragon. That said, the meat wasn’t too tough to eat, and we got about halfway through the plate before we threw in the towel.
Last January, when we stayed just down the street at Hotel Lucerna, even though we had a small refrigerator in our room, we didn’t take home our leftovers from El Rincón de Panchito because we didn’t have a way to reheat them. We had a fridge again this time, so we lived like a local and took an enormous doggie bag. We ate the leftovers cold when we finally got hungry again, and to our pleasant surprise the previously tough beef had tenderized in the fridge. Perhaps that was the plan all along.
The check — which even with a tip was less than some fast food places charge in my neighborhood in Phoenix — arrived on a plate of cookies with colorful sugar sprinkles, not the shrink-wrapped, factory-made fortune cookies we’re used to at home. Not that we needed another bite of food, but it was a sweet way to end another great Chinese meal in Mexicali.