The gentrification of 26th of July St. in Zamalek rolls on. Though it still maintains its character, straddling Cairo’s socialist past with its mercantile future, new places continuously arrive, most of which cater to the higher end of Cairo’s clientele.
The latest arrival along the street is a pair of shisha cafes, located nearly across from one another towards the western end of the street as it snakes its way across Zamalek. Both places cater to the younger, hipper Cairo. Both are standing room only at night.
Wela3 stands on the northern side of the street, while Café Mex is on the southern side. While this reviewer can just about pass as a Café Mex patron, I wouldn’t even try to fit in amongst the demographic that currently rules the roost at Wela3. Thus, I’ll restrict my comments in this review to Café Mex, and leave Wela3 to the experts.
The first thing you need to know about Mex is that it has nothing to do with Mexican. In the mood for guacamole and burritos, a friend of mine recently wandered in. He left bitterly disappointed. But as long as you don’t come in expecting Mexican food, Café Mex won’t disappoint.
There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about the food on offer. Mex serves up the standard café fare of sandwiches, salads, pizzas and cakes. Opening its doors daily at 8am, it serves up a few interesting breakfasts, including decent looking home-made bread, waffles and omelets, bizarrely served with chips. The coffee and juices are good, as you’d expect for a café trying to carve a name for itself among Cairo’s well-heeled set.
It’s at night that Mex truly starts hopping. Once the street lights come on, Mex lays out the sidewalk tables, and the place becomes packed with elegant shisha sets. Once full, it doesn’t let up, and stays packed right up until closing time at 2am.
Mex is hardly innovative or unique. What distinguishes it is its emphasis on quality. Its décor is fresh and fun, with Marilyn Monroe staring down at you from various angles. It has a good selection of books and magazines, and the kitchen and bar are right in the middle of the room for all to see. The staff are well trained, and nattily turned out in funky caps. The location is right, and it captures the late night Cairo vibe.
Mex is yet other proof that Cairo craves a vibrant street scene. Places to have recently opened up around town boast their exclusivity: privileged access, distance from the street, cut off from the common man. Mex proves the wisdom of a very different approach. People want places with urban integrity to hang out in. They want decent service, a decent product, integrated onto their streets and into their everyday lives. Town planners, stubbornly smitten with the mirage of satellite cities in the sand, would do well to take note.
Details: 130 26th July Street, Zamalek. Tel: (018) 536-2780. Open daily, 8am-2am. Lunch for two: around LE100.