It’s possible you’ve heard someone say that London doesn’t have any good Mexican food. We say that’s a myth perpetuated by Americans who envy our national health service and the wealth of cosplay Downton Abbey opportunities. The truth is that you can find some (but not a lot) of good Mexican food in London, whether it’s homemade goose fat tortillas loaded with barbacoa and cheese or a tasting menu restaurant where you’ll find a cashew mole and grilled octopus taco that might just change your life.
We could go on for hours about La Chingada’s crispy el pastor or soft suadero tacos. Or one of its hot salsas, a deep brown habanero number. Same with their fried chicken, a juicy golden pile that’s waiting to be smothered in the tingly, vinegar-ish red of chile de arbol and butter sauce. But it’s not just the food. It’s the day-glo chicken shop aesthetic. It’s the standing, the leaning, and the eating. It’s the day we spent ordering, eating, drinking, ordering, smoking, digesting, ordering, and eating some more. A meal on the pavement may not be everybody’s thing, but it is ours and, even if it isn’t, you can sit indoors. The mango margaritas are also excellent.
Decimo is an evening-only restaurant that gives you the feeling that everyone here knows at least ten more sex positions than you do and probably wouldn’t be afraid to demonstrate said knowledge come Saturday at 2am on the bar, with a cauliflower taco in one hand, and their eighth glass of Rioja in the other. Their caviar tortilla is the stuff of absurd legend and, yet, it’s a gooey, delicious, and decadent creation that everyone should try. As well as tacos, the swanky spot on the roof of The Standard hotel in King’s Cross also serves meat and fish off the grill like quail with mole glaze and eye-wateringly priced £16 scallops. It’s daft, but these kinds of dinners are necessary every once in a while.
Homies On Donkeys is a tiny counter-only taqueria in Walthamstow’s Wood Street Market. Chef Smokey—the owner and taco king—is a man who claims to never go on holiday because he loves working so much. And once you watch him do his thing and have eaten his food, you won’t doubt it for a second. These are big, messy, and juicy tacos. The camaron enchilado has king prawns so chunky that the corn tortilla can barely take their weight, along with the tingly tomato and chilli sauce they’re cooked in. The cochinito (pork butt cooked low and slow) is the star, though. It’s smoky in flavour cooked just as its creator is in name. Make sure you check out the Saturday specials as well.
Hold onto your cynicism reader because we’re about to sound incredibly America’s Next Top Model, but Kol is a restaurant that has it. Whatever it is that takes a restaurant from good to fever dream, Kol has it. A warm terracotta dining room with a buzzing open kitchen, they serve a Mexican-inspired tasting menu. Hold the pretentious faff, think instead: smoky mezcal broths, slick squid paired with a rich cashew mole, and a gooseberry and pear salsa tortilla situation that will make you rue the day you ever willingly bought an Old El Paso kit. It isn’t easy getting a booking but persevere, hit refresh, look out for last-minute cancellations. The booking effort and heavy-duty price tag will be entirely worth it to experience a Mexican fine dining restaurant that’s confident, wildly creative, and never ever boring.
Sonora specialises in tortillas that have been cooked with goose fat, lard, or vegetable oil all to meltingly excellent results. On top of these, the stall in London Fields piles on a choice of barbacoa, carne con chile, chuck steak, or napales, plus dollops of chile colorado and salsa verde. All perfectly moist and messy mouthfuls, though it’s the barbacoa that reigns supreme. Cheese crust—which is as good as it sounds—is a non-negotiable extra on all. FYI, it’s only open Friday to Sunday.
Taqueria has been making some of London’s most reliably decent tacos for years now. The Notting Hill original now has a sibling on Exmouth Market and both specialise in a range of crowd-pleasing tacos, tostadas, and oh-so-sweet tres leches cake to finish. You’re best off going with a gang and loading up on the fish tacos. Or the roadside chicken tacos. Or the cheese and chipotle-covered corn. Taquería is also an easy place for vegetarians to eat without feeling that they’re second-rate citizens, which is always a plus.
When they first opened, Breddos was a taco joint in Clerkenwell that most people wouldn't necessarily describe as traditional. They did things like put kung pao pork belly and fried chicken inside corn tortillas, which might elicit fury from Mexican food purists. These days they’re a little more conservative. The masa fried chicken is still around and crushed potatoes with honey and garlic-cucumber crema isn’t exactly standard fare, but it’s less in your face. There are meaty mains as well as rice and beans and tuna tostadas. It’s untraditional but tasty and ideal for a midweek meet-up.