Updated: Feb 2, 2020
Open: Fri-Sat 09.00-23.00, Sun 09.00-21.00, Mon-Thu 09.00-22.00. Address: Krakusa 11,
30-535 Kraków. Phone: +48 514 786 813. @ https://www.manzanarestaurant.com/en
It's a long time since I've been to a Mexican restaurant in Kraków, and even longer since I've been to a good one. Among foodies and restaurant-goers in the know in this city, Mexican cuisine remains somewhat of a culinary black hole, and a bit of a joke. For a while, things were looking up, as the Mexican-owned Alebriche on ul. Starowiślna and briefly on Szeroka offered authentic home-style food rather than the generic tacos, burritos and nachos that had hitherto been on offer in the likes of Taco Mexicano (ul. Poselska) and the execrable The Mexican (ul Florianska). Sadly, however, both branches of Alebriche closed down, although they still offer food online. Taco has become the de facto Mexican of choice for many Krakowians despite it being extremely average at best – and has indeed been doing brisk business since the late 90s with its ersatz Mexican fodder, which has always bewildered me.
Manzana ('Apple' in Spanish), which is not a newcomer to Krakow – it's actually been here for more than ten years already, although it moved to Podgórze in 2015 and may have gone off your radar – tries to avoid the cliché and tourist trappings of other Mexicans in town. In its previous guise, on the corner of Bożego Ciała and Miodowa in Kazimierz, it seemed to do good business, and the handful of times I visited I was happy with my meal, although I found it a little on the pricey side. I decided to drop by on Valentine's evening to check out if Manzana was maintaining its previously high standards.
Located on a side street off ul. Kalwaryjska in Podgórze, Manzana isn't exactly in a prime location, and will get very little, if any, foot traffic. So if you assumed it had simply disappeared when it vacated Kazimierz, you could be forgiven. I'm not sure why a business would choose to do that, but it certainly asks its loyal customers to stay loyal and spread the word. It's in an unassuming office block on the ground floor, set behind the street. The interior is vast – it can seat 120 in two rooms – so is ideal for a group booking. On the other hand, it pulls off the trick of also being quite cosy for a place so large, and is decorated with various Mexican knick-knacks, Aztec scenes, flags, hats etc. It threatens to be kitsch, but just about manages to stay within the boundaries of good taste. Colour scheme to match the Mexican flag. Lighting level low, music relaxing, service rapid and extremely welcoming. An open-plan kitchen area gives a feeling of intimacy and closeness to the food being prepared.
To kick off with I ordered a very large and unusual drink – something called a Bulldog (39zł). A huge, skull-shaped glass appeared, comprising Tequila, lime juice and crushed ice with a bottle of Corona beer tipped upside down in it, slowly seeping into the drink as you sip it and as the ice melts. Not cheap, but an interesting idea – perfect for those who can't decide between a cocktail or a beer. No Mexican meal is complete without Nachos, so a plate of these were essential. We ordered a nachos sample tray (32zł) between the two of us, and it included both wheat and corn nachos, both made on the premises and fresh. The serving was massive, and could probably serve four. It came with five home made salsas, and these were all full of flavour, especially the pineapple and white bean dips. The Nachos Grande option with Jalapenos, melted cheese, red onion and cilantro salsa looked equally tempting. The quality of nachos was excellent, and you could taste the difference especially with the larger wheat nachos, which were crunchy and delicious. Some of the best nachos I've tried without a doubt. And also some of the best dips to go with them. Extremely tasty.
Next up, a few tapas. First, Jalapeno Poppers – deep fried and crispy balls of white cheese stuffed with spicy jalapeno peppers with a pineapple sauce (12zł). These were very good value and my favourite tapas, they are light, tasty, more-ish and make an excellent starter. I also tried some taquitos (15zl) – rolled up, fried corn tortillas stuffed with chicken, jalapenos and cheese and served with chipotle mayonnaise. Again, they made a very satisfying starter – neither too filling nor too modest – and were bursting with flavour – spicy, though not overpoweringly so, with tasty fillings. They were crisped nicely, and went well with the barbecue dip they came with.
A couple more drinks followed – a Tequila Old Fashioned (19zł) and a Michelada (24zł) which was something very similar to a Bloody Mary but with Tequila instead of vodka. The very helpful and knowledgeable barman behind a huge bar was keen to advise us, as the cocktails and drinks options here are quite extensive. A selection of beers are also available, including the Mexican Corona (14zł), and a small selection of wines, which are pretty superfluous in my opinion with spicy food.
For my main course, although I was tempted by the chicken mole, I went for something called 'Vulcano Rock' (58zł). Served in a huge clay pot, this consisted of beef, shredded chicken and shrimps served in a sort of tomato stew with peppers, chilies, and onions. Accompanying it were three small corn tortillas with dips and Mexican rice. It was really a dish for two people, and I found it impossible to finish, so large was the portion. What I liked about this dish was that it showcased Mexican cooking in a way I haven't really seen before – Mexican food seems so often to be so generic and predictable if you've had it a few times – and in a way which was original and unusual. The clay pot (or 'Molcajete') cooking method infuses everything with a lot of spice and flavour, and actually pre-dates Spanish cooking methods, dating back to Aztec times. It's the Mexican answer to the casserole, and I really like it. I had a real sweat on eating this, and it's anything but a generic dish. Even when I re-heated the leftovers a couple of days later, it retained its taste. Kasia, who is vegetarian, was pleased with the choice available, and had gone for two dishes – Vegetarian Burrito (26zł) and Green Tacos (24zł). She reported that both were light, fresh and delicious. The tacos, loaded with sweetcorn, zucchini, avocado, rocket and jalapeno vinaigrette, looked superb.
Only dessert left then, and by this stage I was (as usual) well and truly stuffed, but a review isn't a review without three courses so I dutifully perused the menu one last time. Three of the four options on offer are not particularly Mexican – carrot cake, brownie and 'cheese-cake lollipop' – the fourth being Chrurros with chocolate sauce – but we ordered the brownie and lollipops anyway (17zl and 21zł respectively). The brownie was a generous slab of rich, dark chocolate cake, moist and warm. I forced it down my neck despite being ready to burst. The 'lollipops' were an interesting concept – more like ice-cream than cake, with a frozen cake-mixture surrounded by hard chocolate on sticks, and kids would love them.
Is Manzana a good or bad apple then? I find it hard to fault this restaurant very much from a quality point of view, and I have absolutely no criticisms of any of the dishes I tried here. All were well-cooked and presented, and more importantly, offered something other than the other generic Mexican options in Kraków. My only reservations are the location – it's hardly central – and the prices. Some would balk at some of the prices here, and you might want to save it for that special occasion. That said, quality does not usually come without a price, and we're only talking prices relative to Kraków, which is an extremely inexpensive city in which to eat out. Despite an admitted distinct lack of competition, Manzana easily takes the crown as the best Mexican restaurant in this city, and for that alone deserves your attention. Nachorally.
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