Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tacos + The Truth (aka, El Loco Surry Hills)...

Even though it has been happening for a while, Mexican is soooo in right now. Now. Like right now. Not a minute ago, not a second ago. It's in Now. Like, right this very split nanosecond now. It's so hot it's flammable. So cool, it's unbearable. So uber-super-duper-taco-trooper terrifyingly...vogue. Even Flynn Bloom (the rosy-cheeked newborn offspring of the elf and the DJ's model - keep up with your celeb gossip, people) is passe by its standards. Don't get me wrong, this is a good, great thing. I fell in love with Mexican cuisine later in life at the same time I fell smack bang - via an Air Mexicana flight where I barely got checked for any contraband at customs - into the whirr and wonder of Mexico City in 2007...

My body weight in guacamole, a scorched cockroach or two, some riot-rich flamed meat and roughly 2783 corn chips later and my alimentary canal swore its allegiance forever. Whether it was street-side Puebla pork or steak at the best restaurant in Oaxaca, or papaya and lime for 30 cents off the back of a truck on the Southern Pacific Coast, I was in a cafe de olla coffee spun food flickered haze of joy. It was almost holy, damn it. You just can't find bad food in Mexico.  So i'm glad that in whatever form I can get it Mexican is starting to hit a little bit closer to home. That's the cake. Now, for the knife...

Colour splashed? Check. Cheap-looking but cheery trinkets? Check. Punk-peckered postered walls? Check. In yo' face attitude? Check. Young? Rebellious? Freestylin? Check. Check. Check. Crates out front for a bit of Melbourne cool? Like, Double Check. El Loco isn't what i'd call absolutely original in terms of decor or concept, but it's really on the money with what's happening now (right now!). 'Street' anything - whether it's Thai or Mexican - is just packing out. The street is so bloody happening parking inspectors will soon be cool. I arrived at the morphed Excelsior before the crowd so I could get in some good snaps without being antisocial. As I sat there in the middle of all of the bearded muso-metro-punk-who-uses-aesop-shaving-cream-Louis-Vuitton'd crowd and in the middle of the denim-dunked staff who look like the last time they cracked a good solid smile might have been the last time they ate a good solid meal (a while ago), and to admit it, in the middle of my own middle agededness...well, the coolness of it all made me just a wee bit uncomfortable. Dining in Sydney has felt less of something to explore lately and more something that you need to keep up with or stay ahead of, like email and old age.

Food has always been status driven and there have always been what you would call trends going on, but it's just gotten to be something else completely different lately. You know, when I was a young girl...Seriously, though. There I sat, at El Loco, thinking we've all gone completely fucking loco. For newer. Bigger. Brighter. Whatever the next thing is. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that Sydney is finally waking up to its potential and that there are lots of new start ups around, but some times it tends to be a little more style than substance. It's still the solid older players who really impress me - like Buzo - restaurants that are smart with flavours and manage to hold their own while gently reinventing what they do - rather than pandering to the fickle foodie drum. 

The truth, as always. Sitting there, alone, perched on my little high horse, silently bemoaning the fate of the Sydney dining 'scene', I was completely ready to dismiss El Loco as overrated. The next big thing, all bark very little jalapeno bite. But then food came, and I fucking loved it...Props where props be due. 
Normally I don't advise that you mix, but a bull-raged-red can of tecate and at least a sip of one of the tangy slushed vegetable magaritas is a playful way to tickle your liver before you start to lay into your stomach. 
We kicked culinary things off with a quirky quesedilla. The mix of melted cheese and perfectly chewy dense-but-somehow-light tortilla was right on the moneda. Most quesedillas can be a bit intense, this one was subtle and smoky and just delicious. And properly portioned, not too much filling or cheese to tortilla and not too big as a whole. Then upwards and onwards, into a place on a plate where pigs really do fly...
The raging al pastor pork torta sandwich is as lethal as a Mexican drug run: dangerously spit-cooked pork dripping into sluices of chili spiked salad and flaked dreamy cheese, sorta melted sorta not. Normally I hate soft, sweet bread but the gentle bun was the perfect balance to the salt-meat fury of all of that pork and cheese. Coriander and cabbage offered a shimmer of green and just a little pungent-fragrant respite and then the salsa flickered mayo comes in and makes your eyes roll into the back of your startled head. It was a dead tie for equal favourite for me between this and...
The Excelsior Hot Dog. This  unassuming little dish created a bit of a Montague/Capulet sitch at the table. I was on the side, let's call them the Montagues, who thought it worked: Johnny Cash Deep Rich mouth-mind-saturating frankfurt bleeding thick-oiled-slightly-charred flavour into a soft bun with globs of pickled peppery-smack jalepeno and pico ge gallo being murderously smothered by a jaw dropping bacchanal rainstorm of fairy-floss cheese and mute-renderingly majestic mayo. Intense, luscious and completely edifying. One bite and you actually feel like you wake up. The capulets come from the much straighter old-school-hot-doggers who think you don't mess with the basic sausage set up. They found this a little too pork-rich and complex. Pussies. 
Corn chips and guacamole...just cause we felt like we hadn't consumed just quite enough carbs and fat...
And there you have it. Cheap and cheerful Mexican, perfectly textured tortilla, spicy tacos with burgeoning fillings such as the luscious lemongrass beef, killer hot dogs and raging pork. The saladish sides of shredded cabbage and spicy corn were colourful and lent a welcome kick of fresh to all of that loco-richness. I liked that loco steered clear from burritos, rather doing all the basic Mexican, it does a few things well and then funks them up a bit.
Loud, rollicking and service by slightly indifferent people who are way cooler than you, what's not to like? Even if it's not your scene, the food, the drinks and the value do justify a drop in - maybe earlier in the night or for a more sober lunch if you don't do crowds so well. The meat fillings tended to be more amazing than the seafood, but that could've been just the night we tried it. El Loco happens at 64 Foveaux Street Surry Hills. No bookings - far too hip for that. Website here. The menu changes a bit but the hot dog and pork sandwich look like they're thankfully here to stay.

So, if you're not already behind on the 10, 000 other places you simply have to try in Sydney before they all close down in 5 minutes, and you just plain want to know what the hell is going on when talking to your friends and colleagues about what they did (ate) on the weekend, then put El Loco on the lengthening list. It does deserve a visit. Danny reckons this is the first Merivale place he tried that he actually thought stood up to expectations, and Danny is a clearly a man of impeccable tastes!  

I am about to post this right now, bet you in the 2 seconds it takes for this piece to publish another 3 places will probably open up on the same block in Surry Hills and another three will've closed up shop. I know we've all gone loco, but i'm getting too old for this. 

Come on Sydney, chill-aaaaaax.

13 comments:

lateraleating said...

It's always good to read a review from a person who has had experienced the food where it comes from. I also feel uncomfortable among the crowds that fill hip places, this one seems worth the hassle.

dannygoldstein said...

that hot dog is delicious

dannygoldstein said...

and the photos are beautiful - love the colours

Sticky Penguin said...

I loved this post - the food looks super-enticing, but you really hit the nail on the head with how food round here's become a keep-up-with-it, cool/passé thing, rather than just all about what tastes amazing and is interesting. The potential food trucks might take that to a whole other level, but, till then, I think I need some new-wave Mexican (funny how recently it was Sydney's culinary ugly duckling)...

amanda said...

wow, so much feedback. this is nice. thanks guys xx food trucks very exciting, i heard a little about this penguin, it sounds exciting but only if the food tastes good, right. this over-it-ness could also be a sign i need to go to the gym more and eat less.

tinytearoom said...

I flippin' love mexican food. Sydney has been lacking decent mexican. I shall have to giv ethis place a try. awesome pics!

amanda said...

thanks tiny, let me know how it goes when you do try it. i wont say its really authentic, but if you havent had a burrito from mad mex yet give one a go, theyre so good when youre hungry x

mouldfield said...

Is your blog even better than when I last came here? Love, words, pics, passion and knowledge and El Loco is looking like the next night out. Thanks Amanda,

Rik aka "The (former) Pasta Emilia Dude"

TravelJunkie said...

love your photos, it really shows the beauty and authenticity of the place as well as the deliciousness of the food! Great post!

Mathewgunny said...

On my 25th anniversry of my marriage we cut the cake in my home with my patner. And we have small drinks party with my patner of plastic bottles of wines on equal sharing and exchanging.

Love to be great for long year.

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Golden Sun Restaurant said...

Food looks crazy good! Reminds me of a fabulous resto I used to frequent before I got too busy managing a Chinese Restaurant in Capalaba area. You just inspired me to go out more!

Golden Sun Restaurant said...

Now I'm craving for tacos too! Food looks crazy good! Reminds me of a fabulous resto I used to frequent before I got too busy managing a Chinese Restaurant in Capalaba area. You just inspired me to go out more!