Tag Archives: tacos

What’s Mexican slang for someone looking for fun in the bright lights of Mexico?

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.

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i’ve never loved Chipotle and Wahaca so much

Bandidos: 31-33 Kingsbury, Aylesbury, Bucks, HP20 2JA

Bandidos is an independent Mexican restaurant in the heart of Aylesbury. Stairs lead straight down from the cheap, unattractive outside front to a leafy and warm interior. So far, so good.

The menu compromises a mix of Mexican and American-Mexican dishes from chicken wings to enchiladas, lamb shank to nachos and everything in between. It took an extraordinarily long time to order our drinks, so long in fact that we were ready to order our food as well. The waitress confessed she didn’t know most of the wines and, when she did bring the house wine (a Sauvignon Blanc apparently) she told us it wasn’t that but she didn’t know what it was. We didn’t like it. Exploring the wine list, the waitress mentioned we could have something not on the menu. As we cracked the joke of running to the nearest off-license she nodded, seriously.

The starters arrived fairly soon. Bandidos Nachos appeared in a small bowl, more akin to cat sick than layer after layer of Montery jack cheese and jalapenos. The accompanying sour cream, guacamole and salsa never materialised. It didn’t taste great either. Grilled tiger prawns on a bed of roast red peppers actually compromised 4 prawns on a bed of lettuce with a scattering of shrivelled red peppers. The chicken wings were small, though tasty, but the chilli mayo dip was far too hot, even for spice-fantics. By now we were feeling rather misled by the appetising menu.

But it was too late to back out now. The mains were on their way. While waiting, we ordered more drinks and I’ve never been served by someone so apathetic about their work. I asked for a second lime and soda, a pint this time. A half accordingly arrived and the waitress asked “did you ask me for something else there?” It was becoming painful.

My two dining partners chose the Mexican Grill: what looked on the menu like a meaty feast of lamb, chicken, steak, sausage along with rice, chips and salad. The chicken was suitably spicy and juicy; the minced lamb kebab was unappetising and equally disappointing. The beef tasted like it was out of a packet: dry, luke-warm and chewy. The rice was scattered with cubes of onion and pepper though lacked seasoning, while the chips, well, let’s just say the Aunt Bessie had done a good job! Chicken tacos were served with three rectangular baskets, about the length of your wrist to halfway up your forefinger. They were dry, greasy and tasted stale. The chicken was served in a bowl with heaps of bland fried onions and peppers, the rice similarly bland and lacking in any kind of texture. Again, it came without the promised salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese. The second waitress was more attentive and apologetic, rushing to get the condiments. Unfortunately, the sour cream was thick, like a sticky meringue, the guacamole rather more successful though not fresh and the grated cheese was rather useless to melt over the now cold food.

Side orders of garlic mushrooms and coleslaw were average. The mushrooms, coated in overcooked breadcrumbs were greasy and oily but had a wonderful garlic flavour. The coleslaw was, well go down to Sainsbury’s or Tesco and try it yourself.

The service was abysmal throughout, and not to just to our table. The couple next to us complained at how long their drinks were taking, the staff seemed more interested in lolling behind the bar and we saw one waitress discuss a problem with a customer as she lounged over the back of a nearby chair. Yes it’s a casual, fun and friendly restaurant but there should be a difference between who’s relaxing and who’s working. The bill came to £67 for three, including one bottle of wine. We weren’t satisfied, didn’t enjoy the food and weren’t placated by the service. If, as the waitress told us, they do plan to open a second restaurant in wealthy Chiltern town of Beaconsfield, they’re going to need to do better than this.

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Las Iguanas: vamos a comer! indeed

Las Iguanas: thehub: mk, Witan Gate, Milton Keynes

It’ll be 21 years old this year but from the way the company Las Iguanas go about their service, food and business, you would think they were the tiny passionate Mexican just opening in Bristol. They’ve come a long way from that, with restaurants nationwide, serving a mix of Latin American food as well as a wide range of cocktails. Milton Keynes may not offer the sunshine of the Copacabana but inside Las Iguanas, you’re a world away from the grid of concrete.

thehub: mk is home to several different restaurants and bars including Strada, The Turtle Bay and Jury’s Inn, all facing out onto a clean paved expanse decorated with twinkling pale blue Christmas lights. Inside Las Iguanas the atmosphere is lively; huge prints of South America are splashed across the walls and the decor and furniture is simple, casual and inviting. Our waitress, Hannah, provided exceptional service throughout: she was friendly, polite and helpful without being intrusive as well as having a good sense of humour. That said, all the staff were sincere and good-humoured in their service and this is one of the many reasons I’ll be going back.

The menu is large but inviting. There are the Mexican Classics including burritos, chimichangas and fajitas as well as some less well-known dishes catergorised by their place of origin such as bahia moqueca – a sweet coconut curry from Brazil – and a honey-mustard glazed lamb shank from Chile. While we tried to decide where we would dine that night, we picked from a board of bread and olives. The two types of bread, a seeded wholemeal and a soft, chewy ciabatta were nothing special, though the balsamic and oil dip had a spicy hint that was very moreish. The Peruvian olives were fat and plump, though again, standard fare.

To start, we opted for the sharer Taco Tray with the fillings of spiced shredded lamb, amarillo prawns and oven-dried tomatoes, feta & herb chimichurri. The accompanying corn and wheat tortillas were beautifully served in miniature: soft, supple and strong enough to stuff in the fillings! The lamb was a little mushy in texture though tasty; the herb chimichurri packing a punch of its own, exuding garlic and basil. The prawns came in a yellow chilli sauce, something that felt like it stripped our tongues of all feeling. The prawns were fat and juicy and the dish would have been perfect had the sauce not overridden the other flavours. Accompanying the lot was queso fundido (a thick and creamy concoction of hot salsa and melted cheese), sour cream and pink pickled onions. A great sharing board with some wonderfully creative fillings to try not found elsewhere – I’m up for the coconut butternut squash and spiced beef and raisin hash next time! We also tried the mollettes – yep, it’s beans on toast Mexican style! Toasted ciabatta turned soft with garlic butter and topped with black refried beans and melted cheese. It wasn’t the prettiest of pictures I’ll give you that, but served on a wooden board and sprinkled with chopped radishes and grated pink pickled onions (the fiery taste is a great addition) and the presentation matched the unique flavour.

For mains, we spread ourselves across the continent. First there was the Las Iguanas special of The Extraordinary XinXim from Brazil. It was lime chicken in a crayfish and peanut sauce served with rice, green beans and a bowl of dessicated coconut. The flavours actually came across as very delicate, bland even and we were disappointed. The plantain though, served in two fat wedges, is worth buying this dish for. From the Barbacoa section of the menu we went for the Blazing Bird – a monster of a dish, even just the half chicken! Out of the three marinade choices, the spicy barbecue jerk sauce was definitely a winner. Sticky and spicy, it covered the chicken from beak to wing and was cooled nicely by a dollop of creamy coleslaw. Curly fries were homemade – some of the best I’ve had, they were crunchy, cut irregularly (it’s always more fun) and bursting with fluffy insides. I saw many people ordering them as side dishes too, so don’t miss out. Finally, we had the Churrasco Fiasco and picked the honey-glazed rump steak over the honey-chilli chicken. The steak was skewered in succulent chunks, sandwiched between mixed peppers and red onion. The paprika and cumin marinade was strong but scorched to give a certain welcome dryness and the steak was blackened slightly for that charred flavour.

To round it off, though with these portions it’s really not necessary, we chose the new pecan caramel sundae. Standard vanilla ice cream topped with a rather sickly pecan butterscotch sauce and finished off with two nut-encrusted tortilla slices. This was a novel idea, stamping shards of pecans over baked tortillas though we agreed it was still too savoury, the tortillas too weak to substitute for wafers. Overall, a rather disappointing end.

However, the restaurant is great value. The Blazing Bird, by far the biggest dish of the evening was £9.70 for half a chicken and a generous portion of fries. The food is not Michelin-starred but neither is it flashy, I’m not sure I’d even go for polished. It’s rugged and fun but has culinary flair and imagination as well as a decent shot of destination injected in. Match that with the impeccable service and you have a truly wonderful high-street dining destination.

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