With at least a bakers' dozen of vendors and establishments around and about, it is safe to say that Tacos are popping off in London. Finally. No longer do we have to sullenly watch the Chilango lady throw burrito fillings on top of small tortillas, or make do with Wahaca's 'authentic' taco experience. This new wave of taco hawkers are banging out solid stuff as well.
Obviously we've only tried the ones nearest work and home so let's begin:
We first tried Dave's tacos this time last year at the then relatively new, Leyton Food Market, and it was the first time we actually realised there was hope that London could have legit tacos.
With a focus on the slow braising and roasting of his meats - it is the complex, rich flavours of the brisket, in a Dr. Pepper marinade, and pork pibil which pop in these tacos. The brisket has a deep, sweet meaty taste whilst the pork is subtly tangy and fresh yet equally dense in flavour.
The sour cream drizzled over adds a freshness whilst the pink pickled onions add the zing which both cut through the richness of the meats. The tortillas themselves are pretty standard, but this allows the meats to sparkle.
With a spot as a Kerb trader now, we can only hope that Dave has gone from strength-to-strength since. If the pics of his fried chicken tacos are anything to go by, he has. Nice one Dave.
The crunchy nut fried chicken tacos were always a pleasure when Breddos were at Dinerama, and now the darlings of the street food scene finally set up a petite bricks and mortar in late 2016 - a cute and stylish taqueria with shiny seating and an artist-loft-bohemian feel. At peak times it is deluged by scores of local social media editors in swingy skirts and sparkly Stan Smiths.
Served on plates that look like small children made them on a pottery field trip, the tacos are traditional yet inventive and Instagram-primed. Breddos know how to make attractive food. The el pastor taco was served 'El Heuquito' style, so the pork comes in steak-like chunks within a wrapped tortilla. The pork chunks lack the zingy punch that a classic el pastor would deliver, and it is up to the salsa verde and pickled onions to pick up the slack.
The baja fish suffers from similar indistinctive flavours. The fish itself is pert and fresh, but its plainness is highlighted by the batter, which is not crispy enough nor amply seasoned. The habanero sauce is very light on the habanero, so it really only added creaminess to an already lacking headliner.
Even our beloved fried chicken couldn't buoy us: the moist bird inside was coated in a lacklustre coating that again seemed to miss seasoning, and was paired again with the weak habanero sauce which offered no real help. The tortillas were slightly over furnaced, making them crunchy in places and adding a burnt note that you don't tend to long for from a tortilla. They're real mealy textured too, like, the E5 Bakehouse loaf of tortillas. Artisanal, on something we like to taste more like it came out of a packet tbh.
But. The cheeseburger mula was a success, a solidly cooked bacon cheese with two crunchy circular nachos for a bun and raw onion and jalapeno on top to add a dash of crunch and heat. The pulpo tostada stood out by miles - with a really great menage of flavours and textures, from the springy octopus to the rich marrow to the tangy black vinegar and sichuan, which pinball with every bite but have an overarching umami-like depth.
These guys clearly like to push the boundaries of Anglo-Euro-by-way-of-Cali-Mexican cooking, and it seems the more you veer to the side of experimental the more rewarded you are.
This place is totally, unabashedly Hackney. It's also one of the most authentic regular 'America' feeling places in London: the ground floor restaurant is brilliantly simple, void of all the design trend trappings, with a kitchen so open you could practically lean over and heat the tortillas yourself if you wanted to. The dark bar downstairs, with screens at either end showing dodgy streams of basketball, has a feel of many a dive bar we have visited in the States.
It is safe to say we fucking love the ethos, design, and merch. And thankfully the food is banging as well.
First off, the tortillas are the one. They are soft and supple with the perfect hint of chewiness and an earthy corn taste that reminds you at the end of every mouthful that you that you are eating a proper fucking taco. And they compliment the different fillings brilliantly.
A plump lump of seared sea bream that flakes away almost butter-like in the mouth is complimented by a fresh and vibrant salsa and crunchy red lettuce pickle. The steak is well flavoured, sat on top of an incredibly fragrant and fresh chimichurri with some jalapeno to kick in some warmth. The lamb special is soft, moist and braised delightfully.
The cheeseburger taco is just spot on. The little clumps of mince emulate the familiar taste of a cheeseburger, with diced onions providing a crisp freshness. Then comes the slow warm burn from the guacachile and hot sauce with takes over and is doused by the cunning addition of the kewpie mayo. So hip, so fresh.
If you can, order the fried chicken special because it's really fucking good The chicken is mentally moist while the brilliantly seasoned coating is perfectly crunchy, and then almost becomes crumbly as you chew. The mole drizzled over it has an deep, earthy tone but then a zingy, zesty quality to it. It is a sweet combo.
It is also, as far as we know, the only place to stock the single greatest liquid fusion of light beer and Mexico ever created - Tecate. But be warned, they sell out.
This place is another late 2016 addition, setting up in Clapton a couple of doors down from the exceptional Yard Sale pizza. Mixing simple furnishings with a rustic Mexican/Tiki bar style decor it feels like an apartment decorated by an art student with a fascination for Frida Kahlo. The bar staff, wearing Hawaiian shirts, and the owner (an American dude called George with wicked hair) are super friendly and welcoming. And those bar staff mix some wicked margaritas, the watermelon one being especially good - sweet and sour, zippy with a nice kick.
The food was not as good.
Plonked upon some pretty bog-standard tortilla were some sorry looking specimens: At first look, the fish tacos did look like they had any bloody fish in them. We seriously did a double take, thinking we had been given the wrong tacos. But burrowing underneath the mounds of coleslaw we eventually found some tiny cubes of fish. The steak and cheese looked like it had been through a hostile merger, appearing an unhappy puddle atop two tortillas adorned with sautéed onions.
They did not taste as bad as they looked. The fish tacos were unbalanced with the coleslaw massively overabundant, but it was fresh and crunchy. When you did get a rare taste of the fish it was rich, with a warm spice. The cheese added a nice gooey consistency to the other tacos but the steak didn't have any bite or deep seasoned flavour that you hope it would receive from being on the grill, and most apparent was a ketchup-y aftertaste. What was missing most was the texture and quality of the meat in both dishes.
We ordered a cochinita pibil taco hoping to resurrect our meal, and while it couldn't eradicate the memory of the first two it was a solid attempt: the meat was spicy and moist, with the guacamole adding a textured creaminess and the pickles tang hitting the tongue at the end. Shout out as well to the nachos which were really crunchy without being oily and had nice flavour.
Fucking great drinks, less than great tacos. You can't win them all.
On the To-Do list: El Pastor, Taco Queen, Temper, Mole - if you guys have any recommendations please let us know.