Sometime during lockdown, Edinburgh got itself a Taco Bell.
I’ve only tried the food from this chain once.
Ironically, it was in San Francisco’s Mission district, where there are loads of terrific Mexican restaurants, and you could order a foil-wrapped burrito as big as a newborn baby for a couple of dollars.
Anyway, it was accidental, and it won’t happen again, though I did have a peek inside Edinburgh's new Shandwick Place branch.
On the same street and also in 2020, this independent place popped up, with the tagline; “Tacos as they should be - owned by Mexicans, cooked by Mexicans”.
It’s an awkwardly-shaped restaurant, tucked into the armpit where Rutland Place and Shandwick Place connect.
Although it’s tiny, you couldn’t miss it, what with the neon signs, queue of Deliveroo cyclists, and the marquee for outdoor diners on the pavement.
We were indoors - him on the banquette, next to the jukebox and fridge full of Jarritos and me squished into a green cinema seat, with a view of lucha libre figurines. Everyone else in the room, which probably only seats a dozen, was younger than me.
I’m sure they could actually see the menu, which was up on a board above the counter. Since lockdown has gifted me with the eyesight of a Victorian seamstress, I looked at my phone instead, and read the one on their Instagram account.
We also winged it when it came to deciding exactly how much to order, since the waiting staff looked frenetic and we didn't want to ask.
Things come as they’re ready. There are no taco holders. This is not a refined take on Mexican cuisine, so expect to have salsa and crema running down your chin. Go here with pals, not a hot date. You’re going to look ugly. (Don’t worry, we’ve been together for a while, and don’t register each other’s faces any more).
The quesadilla (£6.50) - the size of half a pizza - confirmed that we’d over-ordered.
However, it’s hard to pace yourself, when something is as compulsive as this option. It consisted of a wafer thin and crunchy flour tortilla folded in half, with cheese and pork, pineapple, pico de gallo in the middle, and, on top, a tie-dye-esque wash of transparent guacamole sauce, salsa and crema.
I had to remind myself to be mindful, look at what was on my plate and take a photo as an aide memoire, instead of face planting and inhaling like a chihuahua that’s been locked out of the house for three days.
The suadero (£7 for two) tacos were next, with stewed and wet brisket, salsa verde, a heap of coriander, and the sweetest yellow corn tortillas. (I could see another diner looking at me in horror, as I latched onto this course like the face hugger in Alien).
If you have gappy teeth, like me, elote loco (£5 for two) - aka, corn on the cob - has to be tasty enough to make it worth the sensation of bits wedged between your molars, like dental flip-flops. These definitely were, with a decoupage of grated cheese, crema and chilli flakes on their surface.
Then there was the cochinita pibil (£7 for two) tacos, with soft shredded pork shoulder that had been cooked with orange and achiote, and rings of pickled red onion on the top, more salsa verde and coriander.
I was almost ready to tap out, wrestling style, but I still managed my share of the fish baja (£7 for two) tacos, which consisted of crispy fingers of white fish, more of those onions, cucumber, pink chipotle mayo and lettuce. Oh, and the sopes (£5 for two), which I had to try, since my Mexican wrestling name is Sopes Soutar. They featured cocoa-coloured fried masa tortillas - flat, like an open sandwich, and spread with meaty mashed re-fried beans, crumbled feta, crema and finely chopped white onion.
There don’t appear to be any puddings here, but my frozen margarita in peach (£7), with a rim of chilli salt, satisfied any sugar cravings. My date had a bottle of the Modelo Especial (£4.50), and there were other drinks to choose from, including the Mexican orgasm (£7), with Kahlua, Bailey’s and Amaretto.
If the neighbours that are Taco Libre and Taco Bell went up against each other in the wrestling ring, it would go something like this.
Taco Libre would plancha them, and it’d be over.
Sopes Soutar would like to present them with the (elasticated) heavyweight belt.
3 Shandwick Place
(07946 800 560, www.tacolibre.co.uk)
How much? Dinner for two, excluding drinks, £39.50
Places to try Nearby
Fox & Co, 11-13 William Street, Edinburgh (0131 226 6715, www.foxcaterers.uk)
If you’ve got a wrestling grade appetite, sit in at this cafe, or take away their BBQ box or one of their magnificent pies, with fillings including chicken and asparagus.
The Green Room, 19-25 William Street, Edinburgh (0131 225 1358, www.thegreenroomedinburgh.co.uk)
As well as wine and Champers, you can get a decent cocktail at this bar, with offerings including their Jacobin sour, which contains Havana Club rum, chartreuse, St Germain and grapefruit.
Kyloe Restaurant & Grill, 1-3 Rutland Street (0131 229 3402, www.kyloerestaurant.com)
The steaks at this restaurant will put hairs on your chest. They also do a family Sunday roast for four people, £100, with roast rib of beef, Yorkies, duck fat potatoes, all the other trimmings and pudding too.