Posts Tagged ‘Mexican in London’

Boho Mexica near Spitalfields Market

Boho Mexica near Spitalfields Market

Two weeks ago, some of my expat friends and I read this glowing review of Boho Mexica and knew we had to check it out immediately. If you know any American expats in London, you’ll know that Mexican food is our catnip and crack, rolled into one. (It’s an odd phenomenon, of course. When I lived in the U.S., I enjoyed Cal-Mex/Tex-Mex, but eating it was no big deal. Query why I’m now regularly asking visiting American friends to smuggle in salsas and “real” corn tortillas for me).

In any case, Boho Mexica is near my office, so I’ve already visited twice for lunch in the past week. Both times, I went with friends who are originally from California (Bay Area and SoCal), so they were ladies who know their way around Cal-Mex.

three-pork tacos and chicken tacos at Boho Mexica

three-pork tacos and chicken tacos at Boho Mexica

The good news is that Boho Mexica is small, charming and cheap, with most dishes costing less than £4, making it at least 33% cheaper than the Taqueria (which I’ve never visited again after spending £50 for eight orders of room-temperature, stale, oily tacos) and Green & Red (whose carnitas tacos are great but pricey). [And since we’re on the topic, I’ve never had memorable meals at Mestizo or Wahaca, and Crazy Homies would be a lot better if they used thinner tortillas.]

The bad news is that Boho Mexica’s dishes are tiny; their tastiness varied greatly; and the service at lunch ranged from relatively-prompt (and disorganized) to disastrously-slow (and disorganized). They were, however, always polite.

“Very tasty” dishes:

Pan de Elote (£3.50), which translates as “cornbread,” is here served as a warm slice of sweet cornbread topped with vegetables in a light creamy-cheesy sauce. It was a tad sugary, but I’m a sucker for sweet cornbread.

The cochinita pibil yucatan taco (£3.25) is described on the menu as a “trio of pork served with red pickled onions,” and while I’m not sure what three pork parts are in this taco, it was tasty. The pickled onions could be crispier, but I’m splitting hairs.

Tacos de pezcao (£3.75). I remember one of the things that pissed me off about the Taqueria was paying £9 for the fish taco there (and it wasn’t even good). At Boho Mexica, they use plump bits of sea bass and pile on the all-important cabbage. Oddly, on one visit, the taco was served with a tartar sauce-like condiment, and on another visit, it was served sans sauce. I liked it better without the sauce.

Tinga poblana tacos (£3.25) are tacos filled with a smoky chicken filling and topped with a zippy green salsa. We had a bit of an issue getting our hands on extra Tabasco sauce to spice it up a little more (weird because the restaurant claims to serve specialties from the Tabasco region), but with a little extra spice, these were great both times I visited.

tacos de pezcao (fish)

tacos de pezcao (fish)

“Good enough” dishes:

Carnitas tacos (£3.50). I was pretty excited about the carnitas (braised pork). While my SoCal friend enjoyed it, I found the tiny bits of crackling in the filling a bit tough, rather than deliciously crispy.

Guacamole and pico de gallo (£2 each) weren’t bad, but what ruined both of them were the stale-tasting homemade tortilla chips. Pretty unforgivable, even if the chips cost only 75p. [In the U.S. chips and salsa would be free at most restaurants.]

steak tacos at Boho Mexica

steak tacos at Boho Mexica

“Wouldn’t order it again” dishes:

Empanadas or pasties to you and me (£4.25 for two). I think of empanadas as more central/south American than Mexican, but these were stuffed with courgette blossoms and cheese, so we couldn’t resist. It turns out we should have resisted. Both empanadas, while pleasantly hot and crispy, tasted like giant pastry shells stuffed with oil.

Steak tacos (£3.50). How did this go so wrong? Where I was expecting slices of rare, juicy steak, I instead got slightly-grayish, chewy mystery meat.

Enchiladas de mole (£4.95), which I assume was on the menu to lend its Oaxacan legitimacy to the whole shebang. Now, I love chocolate-based moles, but for some reason this dish arrived at our table at room temperature. And at room temperature, the mole just *looked* unappealing. It turns out it tasted forgettable, too. Overly bitter and not enough chili smoke in there.

Agua Fresca

If you’re not in the mood for alcohol, you’ve got three interesting choices in the agua fresca section. I would’ve loved it if Boho Mexica offered a watermelon agua fresca, but the other options aren’t bad: a lightly-sweet-and-cinnamon horchata, a sweet-tangy tamarind juice, and an iced-tea-like Jamaica.

With a few juices and almost three dishes per person, our tab was £10-12 per person both times I visited. At those prices, I’ll keep trying out Boho Mexica because I have a feeling they’re capable of consistently good cooking. Improving the timing of when dishes emerge from the kitchen (so that they’re always hot when they reach your table) would be a good start.

Boho Mexica, 151-153 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ, 0207 377 8418; closest station: Liverpool Street.
Boho Mexica on Urbanspoon

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Green & Red Mexican restaurant, Shoreditch, London

There was a time (read: all of 2007) when I couldn’t get enough of Green & Red Bar and Cantina. I must have eaten there five or six times last year. Despite its not-super-accessible-by-public-transport location, Green & Red served, in my (admittedly East-coast) opinion, the best tequila-based drinks, the best quality mole-slathered mains, and the most delicious carne asada and carnitas tacos in London. I loved the young, energetic vibe in the dining room, and the relaxed lounge downstairs was just icing on the cake.

Maybe I OD’d, but I hadn’t been back to Green & Red since 2007, so last weekend, Jon and I moseyed on down with our friends Kara and Jeff to get a taco-and-tequila fix. The service was still friendly (though harried and distracted), and the food was still good, but the bloom’s off the rose. Is it me, or is it the resto? It’s probably me, just feeling cranky about the multiple (large and loud) groups of birthday celebrators who’d taken over the dining room the night we were there. And I’d forgotten that each pitcher of margarita – full of ice cubes, too – ran north of £25 (£27.50 to be exact).

corn tortillas at Green & Red restaurant

Luckily, the tacos we ordered were still as delish as I remembered. At Green & Red, you order the taco filling you want (£12.50-£14.50 depending on the meat); you’re served taco garnishes (cabbage slaw, several salsas) and a stack of hot, soft, aromatic corn tortillas; and then it’s all Do It Yourself from there. So you can eat tacos with the filling-to-tortilla proportion you like. Extras like guac (£3.50) and queso fresco (£1.50) aren’t bad additions, but the Green & Red versions are kind of bland, so I add them more for texture than for flavor.

carne asada at Green & Red restaurant, Shoreditch, London

Jon and I always order a carne asada, which is smoky and rare like the yummy steak it is. I like that Green & Red cooks the steak and then slices up the meat (i.e., you’re not eating meat scraps or pre-chopped meat that gets dried out/overcooked). Simple and delish.

carnitas at Green & Red mexican restaurant

Carnitas is our other favorite, mostly because you get such a generous portion of pork belly (with crackling). Green & Red’s version can be a bit dry despite that thick layer of pork fat, but I throw on the cabbage slaw, queso and salsas and I’m all good.

You get a lot of meat, regardless of which taco filling you order, so Jon and I never make it to dessert, which is good, because Green & Red isn’t cheap. All the above-described food ran the two of us about £70, which strikes me as a lot for a pitcher of margaritas and tacos, however tasty. But it’s London, so I’m willing to pay for quality Mexican food. Query whether I’m willing to deal with all the large birthday groups, though.

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Nachos at Crazy Homies restaurant, Notting Hill

Friends I trust have raved for ages about Crazy Homies restaurant, so once again, the Tex Mex trail lead me to Notting Hill.

Calling Crazy Homies a restaurant is a little misleading — it’s more like a charming, quirky closet that somehow manages to find room enough to serve tequila and simple, fresh food at three or four cafe tables. (If you’re super lucky, you can snag the comparatively-big five-person round table in the back corner).

taquitos at Crazy Homies restaurant, Notting Hill

Except for a few misses (avoid the greasy, over-salty, admittedly-un-Mexican goat-cheese taquitos), I enjoyed my lunch there. And did I mention it’s cheap? £13 per person covered a shared appetizer, a main course and a drink.


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Mucho Mas Burritos, Islington

Last night, Jon and I were on our way to grab some Turkish food on Upper Street, the main street in our neighborhood. Just the usual weeknight laziness about cooking.

We stopped dead in our tracks when we spotted Mucho Mas. A burrito/taco joint. In our ‘hood. Holy cow.

It seems at least two other bloggers have already posted about this place (amazing because the owner of Mucho Mas told us he’d just opened last Friday), so I’ll keep it quick with following comments:

1. If you miss Chipotle, you’ll love Mucho Mas. While there’s no Niman This and Niman That going on here, the shredded beef and the shredded pork (carnitas) burritos at Mucho Mas were fresh-tasting and delicious. I was surprised to give shredded beef the slight edge over the carnitas, given my undying love of carnitas, but the beef had stronger seasoning yesterday.  Carnitas was a little undersalted and not as spicy as I would have liked.

2. The guac at Mucho Mas deserves special mention. I don’t know why it’s so hard for restaurants to serve good guac, but the extra dollop at Mucho Mas is well worth 75p. It’s salty, creamy and limey-tangy.

3. Last night, the owner assembled the burritos himself, and we couldn’t imagine a more gracious, friendly bit of service.

The burritos are priced at £5.15-5.95, which means you get a meal in a wrap for about half what a takeaway lunch costs at Itsu. I’ll be eating there mucho mas in the future.

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Tacos at Wahaca

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.

Anyway, I read an early review of Wahaca by a blogger duo who’d pasted their link on the Chowhound board, so away went Jon and I on Saturday night to check things out for ourselves.

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:

Guacamole and pork scratchings at Wahaca, London

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.Wahaca restaurant interior, London

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.

Wahaca on Urbanspoon

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I couldn’t resist: Happy 4th of July to all my American readers!

I spent my Independence Day at work, trading jokes with Brits about how things went completely downhill for them after 1776. Not very original. Actually, not very funny, either. But a nice change from talking about the weather (which really has been rubbish, by the way).

Envious of reports coming back from the U.S. about barbecues, fireworks and summer weather, I still managed to enjoy myself today.First, several coworkers and I met a former colleague (wow, I’ve been here long enough to have former colleagues) at a Keralan restaurant near Oxford Circus. The place was a true dive, right down to the dirty, unattractive bathroom in the basement. How do I know it was Keralan cuisine? Well, it just so happens the place is named “The Keralan Restaurant.”

I’d stop by only if I were on Oxford Street and craved dosas, which were pretty tasty at the restaurant – a crisp crepe outside and a tasty mushy potato inside. The parathas were also good, reminding me of the best type of oily, hot bread you get when you order roti canai at a Malaysian place. The other seven or eight dishes I tried were so-so. Probably more appealing are the 1L-size bottles of Kingfisher available. Total tab for lots of food and drinks was £24 per person.

After dinner, I hopped on the Victoria Line back to my neighborhood and met Jon and our some of American friends for drinks at Desperados. We couldn’t think of anything more American than Tex-Mex, so margaritas it was at £17 per pitcher. Good times.

The decor is total kitsch, but what puts Desperados on the map is the fact that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown struck their infamous deal inside this very restaurant. Obviously nothing could be more July 4th than dinner at an Indian restaurant followed by drinks at a sub-par Mexican restaurant.

And what could make me more proud to be an American than I already am? Definitely the news that an American 23-year-old beat Kobayashi in today’s annual Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest.

Happy 4th!

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Tex Mex Tapas Bar in Notting Hill

Despite the rain and the gloom today (as well as the suspension of services on the ever-frustrating Circle Line), Jon and I traveled west to visit our friends and have dinner in Notting Hill, where neither our friends nor we live.

So, then, why the schlepp to Notting Hill?  Well, it just so happens that our friends have a discovery on their hands.

The Tequila Tex Mex Tapas Bar (19 Notting Hill Gate) sets off all kinds of warning bells to stay away.Interior of Tequila Tex Mex

First, what does Tex Mex have to do with tapas? Second, what’s with the flashing multi-colored Christmas lights and cheesy sombrero-strewn decor? Third, why does the menu offer (in addition to quesadillas and assorted tapas dishes) couscous?

Sometimes, though, you have to throw caution to the wind, ignore all the warning signs, and go with the flow. At the Tequila Tex Mex Tapas Bar, our servers were friendly and attentive, the decor took on a friendly, warm glow, and the food was fresh and flavorful.

It’s true that tex-mex food is nothing fancy (this place is a far cry from the “real” Mexican food that Green and Red aspires to), but then again, we’ve been burned enough times by bad tex-mex that to eat something well-prepared and simple is something to crow about.

We started with barbecued ribs, which were sweet and spicy and eminently chompable, though if it were up to me, I’d cook them just a little bit longer to reach falling-off-the-bone status. Serious Nachos at the Tequila Tex Mex

A monster-high pile of layered cheese, braised beef, sour cream, chili peppers and crispy, you-can-taste-the-corn nachos made for a serious appetizer. Undeterred by the size of said dish, the four of us polished everything off in about ten minutes.

Honestly, we could (should) have stopped eating after the nachos, but the siren call of the enchiladas lured us in for more. The four of us shared an order of beef enchiladas and another of chicken enchiladas. The flour tortillas were soft and chewy; the fillings were braised and savory; the sides of rice and beans was home-made-and-fresh-tasting.All this tasty food and our tab was about £15 a person (though keep in mind it was not a drinking night). We will definitely be back, and cheers to Cathy and Bobby on a restaurant well found.

14 March 2007 Update: I went back for dinner and drinks, and the service was still friendly, but slow and disorganized. My friend Jill and I had to ask repeatedly for basics like water and the bill, which was annoying. I think the drop in service compared to my last visit was because the owner wasn’t around. The margaritas were large, but too sticky from the margarita mix, and the “regular” nacho appetizer was made of cheese-flavored Doritos. Not at all like the “grande” nachos I’d a few weeks ago with Cathy and Bobby. The enchiladas and burrito were still good, so I’d say this trip was a mixed bag.

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Tonight, Jon and I made tacos at home. It’s impossible to find small corn tortillas here, but even when we have to use the 9” diameter El Paso flour tortillas, our food tastes a lot better than what we had this past Saturday at the Taqueria in Notting Hill (139-143 Westbourne Grove).

El Paso, by the way, is the dominant (often the only) brand for what few Tex-Mex ingredients you can find at the supermarket here. Think about how sad this fact is. And I’ll bet the only people buying this El Paso crap are Americans because I’ve yet to hear a Brit say “I’m really craving a fajita/taco.”

Anyway, to you folks back home, feel grateful for your dozens of salsa varieties and RickBayless-backed Frontera Grill goodies.The Taqueria opened about a year ago to great fanfare. Time Out, usually pretty much with the program on ethnic restaurants, raves about the Taqueria. So Jon and I checked it out about a year ago, and the tacos were pretty good, but small and expensive. An order of tacos there means you get two tacos and it costs you £6-8. (Anyone reading this last sentence who has been to Mexico to eat tacos should be particularly outraged.)

Well, this past Saturday, we were in Notting Hill for a goodbye drinks outing, and we ducked out of the party so we could get food in our stomachs (“eating is cheating,” as some of our Brit friends say, but I need dinner before downing the drinks).

The Taqueria was close by, so we decided to give it another try.  Looking back on our meal there, the only positive was David Cameron and wife and kidsour spotting David Cameron, eating at the Taqueria with his wife and another couple. I don’t follow British politics very closely, but I do know who David Cameron is, which should indicate his level of fame in the UK. He’s the leader of the Conservative Party, which is the “Opposition” right now, which you can think of as the minority party equivalent. His fave soundbite is to advocate for “compassionate conservatism.” Sound familiar?

All I can wonder is: did David Cameron get served better tacos than Jon and I did?

It was a really bad sign that our order of four different taco dishes arrived at our table less than 60 seconds after we’d ordered them. Nobody puts together that many fresh tacos in less than a minute . . . unless, of course, the tacos aren’t fresh and have just been sitting in an oven, drying out.

Eight different tacos we’d ordered, and not one of them tasted the slightest bit fresh. The corn tortillas were stale, oily and lukewarm. And the fillings were not much better – the chicken mole taco was drowning in a gloppy, sweet, chocolate-heavy mole; the fish taco could have been made of breaded-and-fried anything. And coming in at around £9 for the two tacos, the fish taco was also the biggest waste of money.

I generally manage to get on with my life despite the killer pound-dollar exchange rate, but take a moment to think about the good-enough fish tacos you buy even at a chain like Baja Fresh that come three for $7, and then think about our two sub-par fish tacos in London selling for $9 per taco.

So we ate what we could and thought about how much better the Green and Red in Shoreditch is. The carnitas tacos at the Green and Red could hold their own against the good stuff in, say, Oaxaca.

After paying our bill (£45 for tacos, dammit), we hurried over to the nearby Prince Bonaparte, where we rejoined our friends and drowned our sorrows. We ended the night at Harlem, whose decor didn’t seem very Dutch or above-105th-Street, so I’m not sure what the deal with the name was. But it was cozy and fun. A good recovery from our taco trauma of the evening.

Adios for now.

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