Following her recent Side Dish episode, LJ expands on the state of Mexican cuisine in London, and shows there are some gems if you know where to look.
Mexican food in the UK hasn’t had the best reputation historically. It’s not our fault to a large extent - Mexico is pretty far from where we live on the globe. We can’t easily grow or get our hands on the deliciousness that is tomatillos, vast arrays of chile peppers, corn and Mexican seasonings, as I found out when I attempted to source ingredients for BA’s Pozole Verde. If you’ve listened to that episode, I think I did a pretty good job all things considered but, I’ll be honest, it was a faff.
The easiest way for me, as a Londoner, to get the sweet satisfaction of a perfectly balanced taco is to find it in a restaurant setting. However, presumably because of the same problems that befall a home cook, good Mexican restaurants have been pretty hard to come by for many years in this city. However - I would say that in the last ten years or so the tide has been turning and there *are* some places you can find half-decent Mexican food over here. So I wanted to share my top 5, should any of you be visiting any time soon, and so that you don’t think we are complete culinary clowns in the UK!
Some people might scoff at this choice, because it is now a reasonably-priced, chain restaurant, with branches all over the country. But to do so, is to do Wahaca a disservice, because it really changed the game for Mexican cuisine in the UK. It introduced people to what Mexican food could be rather than the greasy, stodgy food we previously knew. The founder Thomasina Miers had won the 2005 UK season of Masterchef, where she became known for her passion for Mexican food. Two years later, she opened the first branch of Wahaca, which specialised in Mexican street food. Tacos, tostados and taquitos with fresh, zingy, zippy flavours - it wasn’t Mexican like we’d ever really seen before. I first ate there when I came back from living in New York - and having experienced more authentic Mexican food for the first time - and it was the closest I’d ever seen in the UK to that kind of cuisine here. I still love eating at Wahaca now - especially at their Southbank branch, an old shipping container with a great view of the Thames! - as I know it’ll be tasty, a crowd-pleaser, and easy on the wallet.
Santa Remedio, London Bridge
This gorgeously decorated restaurant (I’m biased, I know the wallpaper designer 😉), started in Shoreditch, by a Mexican Wahaca alum, but moved to London Bridge a couple of years ago, on the wind of a crowd-funding campaign. Whilst it’s insect-based offerings aren’t my thing (I can’t quite bring myself to eat grasshoppers yet), their tacos are fresh, bright and beautiful - both taste and looks wise. I love the soft-shell crab option. And DO NOT leave without having their churros for dessert.
What started as a street-food van serving tacos, made the leap to bricks-and-mortar dining (the most common of hipster restaurant fairytales), and I could not have been more delighted. I first had Breddo’s in street food mode and was blown away by their punchy use of flavour. This isn’t authentic Mexican - they flirt with Asian seasonings too, but boy is it fun. They are known for their OG taco offerings so do check those out but they also do a great melted cheese dish, and some OMFG HOW ARE THESE SO GOOD crab and bone marrow nachos. I KNOW.
El Pastor, various
I first ate here when I was trying to get into Padella (a VERY HIP ITALIAN round the corner in Borough Market), but gave up on the line and stumbled here instead. And I’m so glad I did! Started by two guys who have spent 15 years living in Mexico City, these guys know what a taco should taste like and it shows. Their menu isn’t the longest, but it is designed for sharing and as someone who often suffers severe FOMO anxiety when ordering food, I like the fact that you could basically order the entire thing and get a taste of everything between a group of you.
DF Mexico, various
This might be almost cheating, as it’s basically a Wahaca spin-off but I’m going to include it all the same. Where Wahaca embraced Mexican authenticity, DF tries to lean into a more Tex-Mex vibe, but done well. Which I am ALL FOR! There are the usual taco, burrito, nachos on offer, but also burger-based options as well. And lest we forget the frozen margs (never). The only down-side of DF Mexico is it’s insistence on a self-service ordering system which I think we should just save for fast-food thank you very much. I’m at a restaurant, I want an actual human to take my order please!
So there you have my top picks! Have you eaten Mexican food in the UK or London? Which are your favourite places to eat? Let me know in the comments!