NOW I know how a sprinter feels when she hunkers down at the starting block. I understand what it’s like to be the person carrying the bagged-up heart that’s needed for an emergency transplant, on a frosty day, wearing roller skates.
119 Lothian Road
(0131 228 8269, www.pintomexican.com)
Or how a bird feels as it lands at the nest, wormless, with a clutch of starving, pink, beaky, pop-eyed faces staring at it, expectant, silently nagging.
There’s lots of that at the new branch of Edinburgh’s Pinto – an independent Mexican joint that’s just been imported from the west (there are already three branches in Glasgow). That’s because it’s fast and affordable food, so there’s no table service. Instead, one orders from a lengthy menu hanging above the counter. With four exasperated youths staring at me, I tried to choose all the things for our party of three, but my blood sugar was low, which doesn’t help with decision-making. I felt like the granny at the front of a queue, sorting through her coppers to find the right change, except there were no sympathetic smiles. The dude at the till was so overly keen to get us processed that I had to stick my card in the machine three times for various bits.
Eventually, we retreated, embarrassed, with our trays to the back of this space, where squat stools are anchored to the floor like the bumpers in a pinball machine.
The foil-wrapped and chargrilled steak burrito (£6.25) was a conciliatory parcel of joy, with a soft tortilla tightly swaddled round a densely packed filling consisting of rich beefy nuggets, pinto beans, a medium chilli-spiced and red onion-riddled salsa, white rice, sour cream and Monterey Jack. We also liked the chicken tacos (£5.95) – crispy corn shells that resembled yellow baseball mitts loosely cupping an overflowing mixture of shredded poultry, mild salsa and a guacamole that was so light and fluffy it was as if it had been whipped by angels.
Our vegetarian version of the Mexican take on a toastie that is quesadillas (£4.45) was decent too, with a griddled outer and loads of adhesive cheese that was satisfyingly gumming the bread and mixture of onions, sweetcorn, red peppers and beans together. Pulled pork nachos (£5.95) consisted of a huge pile of salty and soft brown meat on a helping of tortilla chips, with yet more aerated guacamole, salsa and blobs of sour cream.
Great food, but I recommend that you visit with a strategy. Choose something from the online menu beforehand, then you can rock up to the counter like a cool kid and avoid annoying the line-up of irritable baby birds.
As there didn’t seem to be any pudding options, we headed up the road to another newbie: 181 Delicatessen (181 Bruntsfield Place, 0131-229 4554). There are loads of well-curated deli products at the front of this narrow space, from the likes of chocolatiers Edward & Irwyn, Cry Baby Soda and Pekoe Tea, as well as fresh bread, cheese and olives.
The made-in-house cake choices, under glass cloches at the rear café area, are traditional, concise but effective.
We went for a nectar-saturated and flaked almond-topped honey wholemeal cake and a square of walnut-studded and auburn-coloured carrot cake (both £1.95), as well as a cranberry, orange and pumpkin seed cookie (70p) with caramelised edges.
The coffee here is the sort I like: strong enough to power Trident. I’d love to tell you how much it cost, but looking at my receipt they seem to have botched it and charged me a random amount (surely less than I owed).
181 is the antithesis of Pinto. Soothingly middle-aged and civilised, and no pressure (which gives granny plenty of time to count her pennies).
Lunch for three, excluding drinks