"mexican food" or tex mex, etc.:
I was out tonight in Madison at at new 'Mexican' place (Cancun--staffed by mexicans; friendly decor), and had a combination plate with tamale, chile relleno, taco, enchilada, etc. and everything tasted the same--same plain red sauce, bland beef, neutral starches, dead cheeses, lettuce. A huge plate of indescriminately nondescript flavors.
Other highly recommended boutique mexican places in town seem the same: bland combinations of bland ingredients without any elaboration.
I was in San Antonio two weeks ago, and one HIGHLY recommended place (Blancos) was pleasant, and there was a mild variation of flavors between items on the combination menu, but by no means were the flavors BIG. You still had to work to find character amidst the big pile of starch.
Another "best of San Antonio" option was also decent, but it was all variations on simple-ingredient mildness.
Somehow, in my distant memory, I remember "mexican" or tex-mex or southwestern as including SPICES. Concoctions that were not only warming, but also enchanting--and onions, and garlic, and BIG flavors--sauces deep and rich.
But more and more the "mexican" food I get is bland beyond bland--the same nondescript, unelaborated, single-ingredient plates of commercial-source flavors in different configurations (taco, tostada, inert enchilada) and wholly without any imagination (or ingredient) that would give spicy, elaborated, distinctive, character. Even 'boutique' and 'authentic' places start to make Taco Bell look like Wolfgang Puck in comparison to these plain, dumpy offerings.
Is this a dumbing-down trend in "mexican" or tex-mex food--or have I just been spoiled by the vibrancy of Thai/Lao, fusion, and home cooking lately?