Everyone knows the world-wide Chilli’s chain and On the Border, but did you also know about El Chico? El Chico has been open for roughly two years on the fifth level of City Stars.
Both On the Border and El Chico will offer you the food you would find in, let’s say, a typical Mexican restaurant in the deep south of the US or California. Although On the Border is supposed to be Southwestern, the offerings are more typically standard border food.
Chilli’s will give you a much more Southwestern (meaning Texas/New Mexico) flavour, adding more oregano to their dishes than On the Border or El Chico. Chilli’s preparation is industrialised Americana, but at least that ensures consistency at this pricey chain.
You’ll find that On the Border and El Chico will offer similar foods (tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas, etc.) but with slight differences. For example, On the Border offers a much more authentic, watery enchilada soup, but the thick enchilada soup at El Chico is very memorable and a week later you find yourself craving it.
On the Border has a flexible menu, where you can order 2, 3 or 4 typical items, like tacos, burritos, as a main, complimented with rice and beans on the side.
While El Chico doesn’t have this flexible menu that lets you sample many items, their 3 Banditos item or Mexican Sampler have roughly the same effect.
El Chico is better located: high up, it has a window-paned wall that takes advantage of the slight view of City Star’s pyramids and sky. El Chico feels open and light, whereas On the Border is tucked away in a dark corner of City Stars.
Both have smoking and non-smoking sections, although El Chico’s openness ventilates smoke better.
A note on other Mexican restaurants in Cairo: although there are some, such as Prospero in Maadi and others who might fool you with a Spanish-sounding name, they do not, in fact, offer a Mexican menu. They are, rather, your average sandwich café that happens to serve quesadillas, for instance.
The one scrumptious exception is Maria’sin the Fairmont Towers in Heliopolis, on the airport road. They actually have very high Mexican cuisine and an honest-to-goodness Mexican chef who knows his gastronomy.