Feel the Burn: Q Mex’s New Taco Burgers and Spicy Burritos Will Make You Cry “Ay Caramba!”

Now that our inaugural Hot & Spicy Festival is in full swing this weekend at Galaxy Soho, we're Feeling the Burn with a few of the vendors to see what fiery wares they'll be slinging for attendees.

As an American of Mexican descent who has worked at restaurants in California, New York, Beijing, and beyond, Marcus Medina is more than well versed in spicy fare. Yet even the Q Mex chef finds himself overwhelmed by the odd hot dish, be it Chinese hotpot or tiny Mexican peppers that back a deceptive wallop— meaning none of us should be afraid to test our limits or be ashamed if tears start streaming down our cheeks during this weekend's Hot & Spicy Fest.

The Q Mex crew will be selling hot new items at the Galaxy Soho housed event like chorizo nachos, taco burgers, and spicy chicken burritos, prompting us to ask Medina for tips on how to cool off when we can’t take the heat. He didn’t recommend beer, dairy or other such remedies, unlike other restaurateurs we’ve interviewed in lieu of the fest. Instead, he just laughed and said: “If it gets too hot for me, all I can do is shout ‘ay caramba!’”

Below, Medina tells us more about what we can expect from Q Mex at the Hot & Spicy Fest.

What spicy treats are you bringing to Galaxy Soho this weekend?
We’ve got three options, each with varying degrees of spiciness so that there’ll be something for everyone.

Our chorizo nachos are the mildest. Chorizo is everywhere in Mexico but varies depending on where you go. We use central Mexican style, which has cumin, vinegar, garlic and onion, so it has a sharp flavor and a noticeable spiciness. But we’re not going for murder with this one. These nachos are going to be for people who want to go and experience some heat, but don’t want to blow their top.

Then there’s our new taco burger. It gives you a lot more heat. It has a chorizo patty with chips and guacamole on top, along with tomato. It’s a Cal Mex/Tex Mex fusion kind of thing. It’s something my mother would’ve come up with when I was a kid. When you eat it you’ll have a burn, but it’s manageable. You’ll be alright with it, unless you grew up with a completely bland diet!

Lastly, there’s our new spicy chicken burrito, for people who really like it hot. It’ll have shredded chicken with a red Mexican chili sauce. It’s going to be very sharp with vinegar, and chopped chili peppers that are sautéed with garlic and onion. And it’s rounded out with beans and rice and mozzarella cheese. It’ll be a smaller, street food size burrito that people can pick up and eat. It’s a killer one.

And even if that doesn’t sear the lining of your nose, then there’s also going to be a hot sauce that you can throw in the mix, made with tiny Mexican peppers. In Mexico, the smaller the pepper, the spicier it is. So this sauce is for someone who gets a little cocky. I’d tell ‘em: “That’s hot for me, buddy, so if you eat it, I guarantee you the endorphin rush will knock you out!”

Where did you get the inspiration for your spicy fest dishes?
There are a lot of things I draw on for these dishes. I’ve spent a lot of time looking into burritos during my travels, because they’re really more Cal Mex than typical Mexican cuisine. In the most northern parts of Mexico, I would say only within 30 miles of the American border, burritos are everywhere. But south of that, burritos as we know them abroad haven’t really developed yet. When I was in Guadalajara recently I instead saw something else called burros, which are beans and meat rolled up with a sauce laid on top. But it’s not quite a burrito.

I didn’t know that. So where are burritos actually from? And would you see them as less authentic than other Mexican dishes?  
No I don’t really look at it that way. Cal Mex is a fusion cuisine that is 150 years in the making. It’s nothing to knock. And some of it you can document precisely. Like the burrito, the way most of us around the world think of it today, comes from a restaurant in San Francisco in 1962 that you can still pinpoint the name of, and the street it's on.

Then there’s other dishes that we don’t know the origin of, exactly. Like nachos. They’ve changed and fused from one thing to the next over the years. When I was a kid nachos were an individual chip, way bigger than what’s served now, maybe only 12 of those chips on one big plate. And each would be covered in jalapenos, beans, rice, sour cream, and guacamole. Now it’s nothing like that. Every once in awhile I want to go retro and show something like that. You don’t see that anymore, you just see the smaller Americanized nacho chips, and now that’s what’s become popular in Mexico. These things just bounce back and forth and play off each between cultures other over time.

Then I bet some interesting fusion inspiration will happen at this weekend’s Spicy Fest, what with all the vendors from so many different locales.
For sure! I see this event as a big opportunity, not just for Q Mex but everyone in Beijing. Both Westerners and locals will realize: "Hey, you can really burn your butt here! You can find some truly spicy dishes. And you can try something new and fun and unique."

It’s a broader event than you might expect, and people can use their imagination and draw from the four corners of the earth to come up with eclectic, fusion spicy dishes. So I think it’s a great idea and a really fun event.

Q Mex, along with 40 more of Beijing’s top purveyors of chili-infused grub, will be in attendance at our inaugural Hot & Spicy Festival at Galaxy Soho on Apr 14-15. Scan the QR code in the poster above or read more on what to expect here.

Photos: Courtesy of Q Mex