There is one man in Puerto Escondido (Oaxaca), whose reputation transcends the state lines of Mexico. The gentleman I speak of has a cult following among travellers. If you were to mention ‘Pepe’ or ‘fish tacos’ to any person in town, they would automatically know who you were referring too.
Before I set foot in his restaurant, I wondered if Pepe’s reputation was a fabrication, an exaggerated portrayal of a character that was nothing more than a myth. Not only was the hype surrounding Pepe, but also his famous fish tacos deemed to be the best around. I was sceptical and curious to see if the man and the food would live up to my expectation.
The first time I went to Pepe’s was when he owned a restaurant on the beach in La Punta. It was an incredible spot, built on the beach looking out to the ocean. I was interested to know how much it would have cost to acquire the land due to its incredible location. The exterior, however, left much to be desired. I was scared to sneeze incase the entire restaurant collapsed.
As we entered, Pepe was flying around the restaurant, trying to keep on top of the food orders. He never had a fully stocked kitchen and would randomly leave to pick up supplies and beers on his motorbike. When Pepe finally returned, the urge to begin constructing new parts of the restaurant overpowered his need to serve his customers. Forgetting that he was running a restaurant, Pepe would start whacking nails into beams of wood with a rusty old hammer. A storm had recently hit the town and destroyed large chunks of the restaurant. How it was still standing was anyone’s guess.
I continued to look up at the roof, worried a breeze would come along and bring the whole structure down on top of us. Pepe would articulate what had happened with his excellent command of English and showmanship. In between storytelling, cooking, and building, he would roll a joint and explain how everything had gone so badly wrong. Not only was he pitching on the beach illegally, but his business was going bell up. At times I felt as if I was watching a British comedy and the strange love child of Manuel, and Basil Fawlty.
A month or so later, I returned to Puerto Escondido and heard that Pepe’s place was no more. After a reshuffle, he…