Ask any American expat what cuisine she misses most, and the answer is usually Mexican. So you can imagine the excitement when word gets out that a new Mexican restaurant has opened in London!
On the plus side, Wahaca is named after a city that prides itself on being the Kitchen of Mexico (and high-quality cooking classes that Jon and I took in Oaxaca seemed to confirm this reputation). On the minus side, the restaurant didn’t have enough faith in people’s ability to pronounce Oaxaca, I suppose, and hence, Wahaca.
The place is also located in the centre of tourist hell (halfway between Covent Garden and Leiceister Square), which you could argue is needed because success depends on high-volume foot traffic, except that the excellent Green and Red seems to do just fine in its inconvenient, grungy locale in east London.
Overall, the food was good, prices were reasonable (£18 a person, with drinks), drinks were outstanding, and the service was good enough, which adds up to: Jon and I will likely try it again. Soon, before the tourists take over (seriously, there’s a ginormous TGIF across the street).
Wahaca’s menu is divided into starters, sides, main courses, desserts, and “street dishes.” Street dishes are what we were craving, and on offer were tacos (3 for £4), quesadillas, taquitos and tostadas. No tamales, but I’ll try to keep the glass half full here.
Jon and I ordered up a storm, and the tacos were the best of the bunch, even though the fish taco (photo at top of post) wasn’t what I’d expected. Not battered and deep fried – a travesty! – but still a deliciously-strong fish taste and creatively served with chunks of mango.
The pork pibil taco was a little dry but overall flavorful, and the meat in the steak chipotle taco was served perfectly rare. It just needed some more salt, a pinch bowl of which sits on every table.
My major complaint about the tacos is that the corn tortillas were oily enough that even I (the lover of all things fried) noticed it.
The guacamole and pork scratchings were disappointing. The scratchings were stale and flavorless, and the guacamole tasted fresh but had the gloppy texture of something that had been pureed to death. Look at how shiny it was:
Our side of black beans suffered from the same over-pureed-texture problem. I just kept wondering why you’d go to the trouble of using great ingredients and making things fresh, and then ruin it all by dumping it in a Cuisinart or blender.
The summer vegetable quasadilla was lukewarm (and it’s just not tasty to bite into cheese that has cooled and congealed), but our chorizo quesadilla was wonderfully smoky and meaty. So the key to the tasty food is whether or not it makes it to your table soon after it’s cooked. Which makes sense – street food is about immediate service.
The drinks deserve a special mention, since I think the restaurant put a lot of effort into preparing each cocktail and agua fresca. For just £1.25, you get a tall glass of said agua fresca, and mine was a terrific mix of hibiscus and cranberry juice.
Service ranged from hostile and super-slow to extremely attentive and smart. The latter kind came from two men who had the air of people who own the place, so I’m pretty sure the only two people who are doing a good serving job right now at Wahaca are the co-owners. Otherwise, it took almost 20 minutes after we were seated for someone to ask if we’d like to order anything, and another 20 minutes after we’d finished eating to be able to ask someone for the bill.
Still, the dining room is casual and sleek, not too noisy, and the tables are roomy and spaced wide apart. A large group could easily eat together at Wahaca, and so the next time Jon and I go, we’ll round up the posse. This place kicks the Taqueria’s ass any day of the week, and I support anyone who’s continuing to raise the standards of Mexican food in London.