Chilango: 27 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 0PN
There’s lots of Mexican places in London, from the trendy burrito shacks to the market stalls and from the slap-up chains to the more costly dine-in restaurants. Well, many there may be, but there’s a reason that Chilango was voted No 1. Mexican restaurant in 2011 and 2012. And you know, these surveys aren’t always right.
Squashed into Upper Street in Islington, amidst Starbucks’, H&Ms and even a Jack Wills, Chilango offers a spot of colour where others are going for the professional commercial boredom. That’s not to say that Chilango’s isn’t professional. It’s just different, you’ll see.
The restaurant, if you would call it that, more of a paint-splattered, endearing shed, is narrow but two-storey with plenty of seats up and downstairs. Go along to the end and you’ll be faced with the simple menu of salads, burritos, tacos etc with pork, chicken, beef and all the beans, guacamole and peppers you should want in a Mexican.
The staff are efficient but by no means hurried and, as a minimum, walk along the rows of food opposite you following your directions of whatever you want on your burrito or choice of base. As if that wasn’t enough, all the food is freshly prepared adjacent to the service area so even if the menu isn’t quite convincing enough, the smells certainly will be. I wasn’t so enticed by the bagged nachos, though they had been bagged in-store as opposed to say, Tesco’s nachos, and I suppose to some extent it stops the chips from drying out. Otherwise, there are no starters/desserts or hot drinks though cold ones are available. The interior is awash with colour, one wall plastered head-to-toe with old record covers, while seats are available as bar stools, cosy benches or more intimate booths. It’s laid-back, funky and really welcoming.
The special Pirito Chicken Burrito came stuffed with coriander rice, fried peppers and onions, mild salsa, sour cream, cheese and guacamole. The tortilla was huge and light, supple enough for our waitress to masterfully fold everything inside to form a handy wrap-type meal in foil! The pirito chicken was succulent, not too spicy, and, while some may find the mix of hot and cold a little odd, the components of the dish blend wonderfully. The coriander rice wasn’t particularly prominent, but a nice filler.
Chicken Salad is a great choice for smaller bellies, those watching the calories or even for someone who wants to taste a little more as sometimes the ingredients shine out a little better. The grilled chicken was chargrilled and juicy, freshly cubed, while the salad was bright and fresh. The mild salsa was thick and chunky and added just enough heat. Sour cream and guacamole were both fantastically thick, the sour cream smooth and moreish, while the guacamole was a little grainier, as it should be, but rich and fatty. Fried peppers and onions were recognisable, so not overdone, and the black beans were fat little spheres of goodness.
Chilango may look like just another burrito bar, or even like someone’s home improvement project in a lean-to, but I can guarantee that you won’t be needing to go to Mexico for fun and adventure.