SINGAPORE - I used to think I was not a fan of Mexican food. But actually it was Tex- Mex food that I was not fond of.
Back in the 1980s when I started work, that was the kind of Mexican food available here.
The burritos - ground beef, cheese and refried beans rolled in a thick flour tortilla - were just too heavy for me. And the oily tacos I ate did not endear me to the cuisine either.
But better Mexican restaurants have since sprouted up, opening my eyes to a totally new cuisine that is filled with sharp and bright flavours, and they are not all that oily or heavy.
Among them is Super Loco, which launched a second outlet at Customs House in September, after the success of its two-year-old restaurant in Robertson Quay.
SUPER LOCO CUSTOMS HOUSE
01-04 Customs House, 70 Collyer Quay, tel: 6532-2090; open: noon to midnight (Mondays to Fridays); 5pm to midnight (Saturdays); closed on Sundays
Food: 3.5/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 3/5 stars
Price: Budget about $90 a person for dinner, but a light lunch can be under $40. There is no service charge.
My first impression of the restaurant is actually not a good one.
After making a reservation over the telephone and receiving an SMS confirmation a day earlier, I arrive punctually at the restaurant to be told that there is no booking in its system.
Brandishing the message on my phone, I point out: There is something very wrong with the system.
Fortunately, a table is available and the chirpy service staff make me forgive the lapse easily.
The dishes on the menu, with their Mexican names, are unfamiliar to me. But each is followed by a list of the ingredients in English, which helps me to pick out a selection of dishes that include more hits than misses.
Aguachile ($25) is a seafood ceviche that is fiery with chilli. You will enjoy it if you like your flavours tart and hot. I find the lime juice dressing too sharp at first. But spooned onto a toasted tortilla, the sourness becomes more balanced and I start to enjoy the sweetness of the crabmeat and prawns.
I like it more than the Pulpo ($24), which sounds promising, with ingredients such as barbecued octopus, achiote, tomatillo and toasted chorizo crumble.
But the dish tastes disappointingly flat. The pieces of octopus are tender, but lack the smokiness I am hoping for. I can hardly taste the chorizo in the crumble either.
The Langosta Tostada ($26), however, is a winner. Maine lobster, celery hearts, avocado, piquillo and spring onion are all diced and served on a crispy tortilla with orange mayonnaise.
The result is a lovely melange of flavours (sweet, sour, spicy) and textures (crunchy, soft, crispy) that should suit the taste of many Singaporeans. Each order includes two tortillas.
Some of the meat dishes are good too. My favourite is De Res Taco ($18), comprising strips of smoked wagyu brisket, orange and chilli marmalade and chipotle salsa on a soft corn tortilla.
The beef is tender and fat enough to render it moist and flavourful. Yet it does not feel heavy because of the spice.
The El Cuna Torta ($23), available for lunch only, is a sandwich with a slice of slow-roasted pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, romaine lettuce and pickles.
It does not sound very exciting, except that these are stuffed between two thin slices of beautifully toasted bread that is crisp on the surface and soft inside.
My dining companion finds the jalapeno mustard spread on the bread too strong, but I have no problems with that.
The dish I dislike is also the most expensive at my lunch. The Carne Asada ($40) is a main dish of marinated grass-fed Angus skirt steak served with smoked jalapeno mayonnaise and huitlacoche jus.
I expect a chewy but flavourful hunk of beef, but instead I get a tender piece of sugary-tasting meat - the result of over-marinating, perhaps.
I like my steak to taste like beef should, not of fruit and wine. Adding jalapeno mayonnaise to it does not cut the sweetness, though a dab of the huitlacoche jus - made from a corn fungus - helps to tone it down a little. Still, I leave most of the meat behind.
Thankfully, the meal ends on a good note with a delicious dessert called Tres Leche ($13).
That means Three Milks, which is milk done in three ways: as pieces of dehydrated wafer, gelatine blobs and ice cream.
Each tastes delicious on its own, but they also combine to form varying permutations of contrasting textures and temperatures.
The reservations fiasco has an epilogue.
Three days later, I get a calendar reminder and three calls on my phone with a recorded message to go for lunch that day. It finally stops after I cancel that phantom reservation twice.
Something is definitely very wrong with that system.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.