An edible Adventure: Poppet in Sydney
El Loco Mexican Cantina Y Barra
Address: 64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Monday and Tuesday, midday until late
Wednesday, midday until 1am
Thursday to Saturday, midday until 3am
Sunday, midday until 10pm
Phone: (02) 9211 4945
After a weekend of serious Sydney eating, we dragged our bellies to El Loco in Surry Hills. If anywhere could reignite our fiesta spirit, we knew this would be the place. This colourful taqueria is downright cool. I hate to resort to ‘70s slang, but there just isn’t a better word to describe El Loco. It’s cheap, cheerful and trendy. Unlike in Melbourne, being ‘trendy’ doesn’t mean excluding the majority of the city’s population. The crowd at El Loco was decidedly mixed: happening youngsters, middle-aged mums, parties with wheelie bags en route to the airport, a sprinkling of kids, the list goes on.
A wall speckled with cactuses in vibrant pots gives the location away, with picnic bench seating leading around to colourful chairs plonked out the front of the azure blue doorway.
As you enter, the cooking action takes place to your left beneath the hand painted menu board, and the drinks are mixed at the wooden bar on your right, complete with a piñata (there are no lollies inside, I checked, so don’t bother giving her a whack).
You order at the bar, at which point you’ll be given an extravagant table number in the form of a giant, wooden cactus. The raised tables are covered in kitsch plastic cloths, stapled haphazardly in place. You can park your behind on the colourful metal stools, or in the corner on either one of the comfortable but grimy looking couches or the cushioned plastic crates.
The walls are plastered in quirky posters and printed in cartoonish Day of the Dead skulls in a sombreros, with El Loco’s mantra clearly printed over the top: “VIVA LOS TACOS”. Exposed globes are hung chaotically from the ceiling around two rusty tin lights; it all adds to the atmosphere.
On each table you’ll find three bottles of hot sauce ranging from spicy to spicier to spiciest. The modest menu has two sides: food and drink. Everything edible is served in bio containers that can be chucked out after they’re used.
If it’s tacos you’re after you can choose from spit roast pork with pineapple salsa, lemongrass beef with salsa verde and queso, prawn with salsa verde and pico de gallo, chilli marinated tofu with pico de gallo, chicken with sweet corn salsa or the ‘Secret Taco’, where you’ll only be told the main ingredient once you’ve polished it off. They’re small and cheap ($5 a pop), so you’ll be able to try a few.
We sampled the prawn taco and the secret taco, which turned out to be tender cubes of ox tongue. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re not willing to take the risk, the Secret Taco is not for you! If you like the sound of the Secret Taco, Touché Hombre in Melbourne does one as well. Other than that there are corn chips with guacamole and salsa, the healthy ‘El Loco Salad’ with chilli spiced tofu, market grilled fish served with fennel salad and salsa verde, or minute steak with radish salad and pico de gallo.
We also tried the El Hot Dog, a grilled pork Frankfurt in a soft bun with pickled jalapenos, pico de gallo, mayo and a mountain of cheese. The Fish Torta Sandwich was also ordered, grilled fish on a sweet, soft bun with cabbage, coriander, spring onion, mayo and pico de gallo salsa. It was delicious. If you like the fillet-o-fish from Maccas, it was like one of them on steroids. If you are a fillet-o-fish hater, it wasn’t.
I had the Al Pastor Pork Torta Sandwich, similar to the fish option but with grilled marinated pork from the spit. Our food was sloppy, as Mexican should be. Our tacos spewed juice and our torta sandwiches practically disintegrated in our hands. We made a right mess. It was fun, but perhaps if the buns were lightly grilled on the inside we would have avoided finding half our meal in our laps.
The drinks menu is made up of margaritas and tequila, of course. Order a classic margarita, a jalapeno margarita, a largerita (with corona), or a veggie margarita. The vegetable options with ingredients such as jalapeño, avocado and freshly pressed beetroot juice sounded really interesting, but we just couldn’t stomach one after our indulgent weekend. There is also ‘Pink Cuco’, a house slushy with tequila, pink grapefruit and lime juice and homemade coriander and raw ginger syrup.
After eating non-stop since Friday night, I can’t say we were hungry when we started eating at El Loco on a quiet Sunday afternoon, but the tastiness factor meant that we finished our food. There were plenty of seats when we visited, but I imagine you’d want to arrive early if you want a spot in the evening.
El loco is also open until 3am over the weekend, so you can fiesta all night long if you wish. After lunch, we felt more like a siesta than a fiesta. It was already time to catch a cab to the airport and head back to Melbourne. El Loco was essentially our last supper, or more accurately our last taco… at least until our next epicurean adventure!
Note: pico de gallo is a raw salsa made from a fresh tomato base