My husband does all the cooking at home.
In return, he is my plus one on restaurant reviews.
This give and take is my secret to a happy relationship, as, betwixt us both, we lick the platters clean. Thus, for Valentine’s Day, I treated him to a visit to this taco place, which takes walk-ins only. See, spontaneous romance is not dead.
Either I’ve not been paying attention, or this new venue has sprung from nowhere, like a refried beanstalk.
The internet tells me that it’s owned by Stuart McCluskey, who, among other venues, used to have The Bon Vivant, The Devil’s Advocate and El Cartel, which was once in this premises, and has another outlet at Teviot in the Capital, though their Edinburgh Roxburgh branch recently shut down.
According to a member of staff, he moved on from The Bon Vivant Group a while ago, and opened this place recently, when the original and much loved El Cartel didn’t reopen after lockdown and left a taco-shaped hole on Thistle Street.
It looks a bit more grown-up than the last incarnation, with its duck egg blue walls and retro posters. They’ve ditched the slushie machine, black walls and luchadore masks that were here before, and gone for something slightly more upmarket.
I’m especially happy about its existence, as there is no greater pleasure than a lunchtime Margarita. You just need one, but life looks a bit better with tequila goggles. It seemed obligatory to try the version at this place (£9.50) and it was an excellent example, served in a tumbler, rather than the usual cocktail glass.
If you want something peppy, aromatic and zingy, we also tried the longer drink that was the Batanga (£9.50) with tequila, lime juice, Coke and Dr Hosetter’s Liqueur, and a Day Effay (£9.50), which was a short and pleasingly medicinal blend of tequila, sweet vermouth and orange bitters.
Then we had to stop, in order to dodge a case of the cocktail flu the next day.
At least we could line our stomachs, thanks to the gratis chilli-laced crispy batter bits that were on the table, and, from the Antojitos section of the menu, a portion of their frijoles refritos (£5) - slow-cooked black and pinto beans with sheep’s cheese and a small portion of bubby triangular totopos on the side. Their other starters include a tomato and fishy sopa de marsicos (£8.50) or mushroom quesadilla and black beans (£8.50).
The main event tacos, which are served, romantically, in pairs, come as they’re ready, and our first to land was the tinga (£8.50). The wraps themselves were sweet and corny as an old-fashioned chat up line, and their topping included shredded chicken, a mildly spicy morita sauce, crema, coriander, a sprinkle of sheep’s cheese and crumbs of crunchy salty chicken skin.
If you want to spice them up, there are red Valentina and habanero sauces on the table. We didn’t need that, since we’re hot enough already.
Next was the pulpo (£9) duo. These were gorgeous, with charred and earthy notes from the ‘crispy confit octopus’, plus finely chopped onion, aioli, red cabbage, pineapple and salsa verde. I was very tempted to ask them to rack us up another round.
Instead, we focused on the pescado (£8.50). I wouldn't say grey is my favourite colour, when it comes to sauces, but I’ll make an exception for the squid ink and charcoal crema, which was dolloped onto large pieces of silky-centered battered cod, tobiko, and salsa verde.
At this point, I had sauce all around my mouth and coriander in my teeth. Perhaps don’t do tacos on a first date. He’s used to seeing me like this, but a new amor might be permanently traumatised.
Our final duo was the lengua (£9), or ox tongue, with pieces of dark meat that were super savoury and rich, onion, salsa verde and coriander.
There’s no pudding available, so any thoughts of churros were soon quashed. Maybe that’s for the best.
Still, the menu here is quite similar to El Cartel’s, but better. It’s like they’ve refreshed, refined and added a bit of vim.
They’re welcome to cook me dinner any night, and I don’t say that to all the boys.
My other half can take the rest of the week off.