Food should always be fun, which probably explains why I've taken such a shining to El Loco of late. There's nothing fancy, with Mexican-style street food served in takeaway trays and margaritas dispensed in plastic cups, but that's half the appeal - chowing down on messy deliciousness as you perch on a metal stool at a table covered in plastic prints.
El Loco Mexican cantina y barra
El Loco sits at the back of the Excelsior Hotel, a splash of bright blue bordered by a herb garden and assorted cacti. Milk crate stools topped with colourful padded cushions are a quirky touch.
Milk crate stools
You can order and eat from within the main bar area, but the cantina offers the most buzz, the bare floors livened with a rainbow of stools, spray-painted walls and an eclectic assortment of music.
La Cerveza del Pacifico Clara $8
There are 26 different tequilas available from the tequila shack, but we've stuck to the Mexican beers so far. Choose from Corona, Pacifico Clara and Dos Equis (each $8) or cans of Tecate for $6. Margaritas (classic and jalapeno) come in plastic cups rimmed with salt ($13.50).
El Loco menu
Head chef and Merivale golden child Dan Hong travelled to Mexico and LA with Justin Hemmes earlier this year, undertaking some heavy edible research from street stalls and taco trucks before heading back to Sydney. The resulting El Loco menu is surprisingly thorough, offering a broad selection of proteins. Even vegetarians have been catered for, with queso de soya tofu tacos on the board.
Prepping tacos in the kitchen
Corn chips with guacamole and salsa $5
I've visited El Loco several times now, and the corn chips have become a mandatory order. They always arrive quickly, the thick corn chips perfect for dipping into the rich guacamole and a salsa that is vibrant with chilli and herbs.
'Al Pastor' pork 'torta' sandwich $10
The Al Pastor pork torta sandwich is impossible to eat gracefully. Jammed between two halves of a soft sesame seed bun are chunky slices of marinated pork -- grilled on a spit -- with shredded cabbage, coriander, spring onion and a scoop of pico de gallo salsa. A generous dollop of mayonnaise on top will squelch its way everywhere.
One of my surprise favourites has been the fish 'torta' sandwich, the grilled fish fillets sweet and slightly smoky, dressed with the cabbage, coriander and stripes of creamy mayonnaise.
It's hard to go past the El hot dog though, a monster of a grilled pork frankfurt cloaked in a cloud of finely grated queso fresca cheese. The fresh cheese is amazing -- fairy-like strings that melt at first contact on the tongue, draped over frankfurt, spicy jalapenos, pico de gallo salsa and, oh yes, more lashings of mayonnaise.
The menu ambitiously describes the El Loco salad as a "healthy salad", my kinda nutritionist when we're talking about a dish that includes shards of deep-fried tortilla chips and a snowstorm of queso fresca fresh cheese. Cubes of deep-fried tofu are smothered in chilli sauce and tumbled with shaved fennel, wafer-thin slices of radish, cabbage, coriander, spring onion and avocado.
Skull salt and pepper shakers
View into the open kitchen
Pollo chicken taco with sweet corn salsa $5
The $5 tacos offer a tasty little snack -- order two and share the corn chips and you'll usually be right for lunch or dinner. Picking up and eating these soft tacos requires some hand-eye coordination.
Camaron prawn taco with salsa verde and pico de gallo $5
The pollo chicken taco is a mild mouthful of seared chicken, livened with a sweet corn salsa. The Camaron prawn taco revealed a surprise bed of plump prawns, smoky and caramelised from the grill.
Blackboard specials change daily, ranging from one-off taco fillings to quesadillas. On my last visit the five spice pork belly taco packed a welcomed chilli hit, dusted with a sesame and habanero salt mix and refreshed by sprigs of Vietnamese basil. The roast pork belly came with layers of pork crackling too.
Every day a secret taco is available, the components of which are rarely revealed by staff until it is delivered to your table. The first time I ordered the secret taco, they delivered it and still wouldn't tell me what was in it, asking me to eat it first and guess.
It was lambs tongue, wondrously tender with its trademark slight resistance. On top was a pile of cabbage and pico de gallo salsa, but the trail of chicharrón deep-fried pork crackling was another highlight.
Secret taco $5
The second secret taco I ordered revealed itself to be chicken liver, this time dressed with a trail of popcorn tempura, nubbins of sweet corn dipped in batter and deep-fried. Popcorn tempura should be a snack on its own. I could have eaten a bowlful.
The pass at El Loco
Dessert changes regularly too. We've tried the churros which were delivered piping hot from the fryer, the crunchy fluffy donuts made even more desireable after a dip in the pot of thick and bittersweet chocolate sauce.
Softgel 112 soft serve ice cream maker
One of the latest additions to the kitchen has been a Softgel 112 soft serve ice cream maker.
Soft serve ice cream with roasted macadamia nut crumble, homemade honeycomb and chocolate fudge sauce
The first time we had the soft serve ice cream it came out with an orgy of roasted macadamia nut crumble, slabs of homemade honeycomb and drowned in a river of chocolate fudge sauce.
Cinnamon bun soft serve ice cream
The latest flavour (last week) is cinnamon bun soft serve - it tastes like cinnamon and butter and sugar. It's the stuff kids dreams are made of, but veers toward incredibly sweet by the time you're halfway through.
And oh, who's that at the pass?
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Mexican - Flying Fajita Sisters, Glebe
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8/22/2011 12:27:00 a.m.