We don’t really do street food in London. Not in a literal, outside sense. We don’t have a tradition of balık ekmek like in Istanbul. Fish aren’t being grilled on the South Bank ready to throw in a soft roll. Nor do we have teeming night markets like Bangkok or Marrakesh or Kuala Lumpur. This is because our street food lives inside, and then it spills out. Onto pavements, buses, park benches, and soon-to-be messy laps.
You might not know that your average lahmacun regularly stumbles all the way down the Kingsland Road. Or that char siu buns and Taiwanese popcorn chicken routinely ride the Piccadilly Line. That six steaming hot wings will often travel from New Cross to Oval, and their boney remnants to the bus depot. It’s not that we don’t have street food. It just rarely starts on the street. That’s why it feels special when a restaurant recreates that feeling. When people (in ordinary times) pile in and spill out of an imaginary revolving door, tacos and tostadas balancing on top of each other. It’s why La Chingada is so good.
From the moment we first bit into La Chingada’s al pastor taco, scrunched napkin at the ready, salsa dripping down our chin, we knew this tiny taqueria had it. The multi-coloured comic sans sign. The kaleidoscopic chicken shop-style interior. The people perching on stools inside, the pockets huddling around tables outside. Fluoro red chilli sauce being poured onto the crispiest of chicken wings. Green salsa verde getting on everything: crispy chicharrones, gooey tostadas, your hungry jacket sleeve. At its best, everything about this Mexican restaurant is ramped up to 11. The flavours, the aesthetics, the atmosphere. It turns a grey patch of Surrey Quays into glorious technicolour.
There are things to know about La Chingada. The first is that its name, translated, has a multitude of meanings. All of them rude and incendiary, which only makes us like it more. The second is that weekend is primetime. It’s when the al pastor spit is juicily rotating, and the suadero (confit beef brisket) is at its most tender. It’s when there are high tables outside, and people are standing and drinking and smoking, in between dripping chorizo oil all over the pavement. Sundays are also big days, because that’s when the owner, Walter Optiz, puts on a one-off special. Chicken with mole, enchiladas, whatever’s in his head. He’s the man to thank for La Chingada and its semi-transportative feeling.
If you don’t feel like travelling, or feeling like you’re elsewhere, La Chingada can come to you. They do deliver and you can swing by to collect. It’s just not quite the same. Not only because the marinated pork in the al pastor isn’t as tender, or the suadero isn’t as moist, but because you’re not there. Having a taco made for you is simply better than doing it yourself from component parts. Anyone could tell you that. But having tacos and tostadas and as good a time as this? We’ll tell you that there’s only one street in London where you can get that.
Any two tacos is a fiver very well spent here. The al pastor is a classic - with thick-cut marinated pork, pineapple, diced onion, and coriander - and it’s a must order. A squeeze of lime and a dash of salsa is all you need. Just remember to have your scraps-catching-hand ready under you taco-eating-hand.
A confit beef taco that deserves your undivided attention. On the best days beef juice soaks into the taco and, combined with a generous blob of chipotle salsa, is the perfect combination of meat, chilli, onion, and lime. Simple, delicious, and the slice of radish is a nice touch.
Easily the most consistent taco. If you’re getting a takeaway, the chorizo is your friend. It’s very oily, very messy, and has a polite kick. This taco never has an off day.
If you don’t get the tostadas you’re doing it all wrong. Unless you don’t eat chicken. In which case sorry. These are two unapologetic hot messes. Crispy tortillas piled stupidly (and brilliantly) heavy with pulled chicken breast, beans, sour cream, cheese, lettuce, and that chipotle sauce.
Something of an unsung hero, La Chingada’s chicken wings are serious. The batter is crisp and bubbled, the chicken moist, and the arbol butter chilli sauce will creep up on you in a welcome, warm kind of way. Have your napkins ready.
A chunky and soft bit of white bread topped with refried beans, melted cheese, and pico de gallo. It’s small, it’s a bit stodgy, and it’s the kind of thing we want to eat horizontal for the rest of our life.
A plain quesadilla is nice enough. Melted cheese, a warm tortilla - what’s not to like? But what you want to do is throw some al pastor or chorizo in here as well. The answer to cheese oil + meat oil is never not good.
Getting every sauce and salsa is absolutely non-negotiable. The salsa verde is excellent, as is the arbol chilli sauce, but the deep brown chipotle number has our hearts.