We're all familiar with Sydney’s great affinity for Mexican food. These days, you can’t throw a sombrero without hitting a cute cantina filled with bright flags, smiling skulls and a slew of salt-rimmed margaritas. But decor and tequila aside, the real determining factor of a great Mexican joint is, of course, in the food — more specifically, the tortillas and their toppings.
Whether you like them soft or crispy, from an authentic taqueria or shovelling them down at an all-you-can-eat competition, our picks of top ten tacos will go down a treat. We've even included a DIY version, so you can continue the fiesta at home.
Top Taco: Baja fish and shrimp taco. The Baja-style seasoned mayo sauce is addictive.
Touted as Sydney’s only authentic Mexican, Dos Senoritas upholds its longstanding reputation with a traditional Guadalajaran-style menu by native chef, Domingo Medina. While the decor could do with a refresh, it’s the award-winning tacos you came for and it’s here they abound. Just choose your shell, (gringo style - flour tortilla, street style - corn tortilla or tex-mex - crispy taco shell) and for $25, choose three tacos off the menu. There’s charbroiled chicken, marinated steak, spicy ground beef, Baja fish and shrimp or Dos XX (Mexican beer) battered fish. Tacos are served with rice and beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and coriander. The authenticity is apparent in the flavour and spice lovers will appreciate the use of real Guadalajaran chillies.
265D Victoria Road, Gladesville; 02 9817 3737; www.dossenoritas.com.au
Top Taco: Carnitas Tacos. Slow, slow cooked pork with unmisseable extras.
Canterbury favourite La Lupita moved to CBD venue The Basement, but then headed back to Canterbury under a new name, PAZAR Food Collective. But the crew's part-time food truck has been chugging away the whole time. The tacos here are $6, slightly bigger than your usual and packed with flavour. 'Al Carbon' means 'cooked over charcoal' in Spanish, and these guys are all about tradition. Making tortillas fresh to order in the truck, you can expect north Mexican-style tacos and nosh from the Sonoran region.
The Carnitas Tacos (super slowly roasted pork with ciccarones (crackling) and habanero onion lime salsa are full of crispy, porky deliciousness. The truck also churns out the epic Sonoran Hot Dog ($12), bacon-wrapped beef, Applewood smoked hot dog in a bolillo roll with frijoles, salsa Mexicana, Oaxaca cheese, guacamole, salsa de chile de arbol, smoked jalapeno mayo and American mustard. We know we're talking tacos here, but this is some kind of meaty wizardry.
Various spots around Sydney; www.visitalcarbon.com
Top Taco: Carne Asada. The lemongrass adds a burst of Asian flavour to the tender beef.
At Dan Hong’s Surry Hills establishment all tacos on the $5 menu are flavourful and inspired combinations. Spit roasted pork with pineapple salsa is a stand out, but the pub also offers lemongrass beef with salsa verde and queso, prawn with salsa verde and pico de gallo, chicken with sweet corn salsa, and a marinated tofu taco for the often-neglected vegos. The secret taco changes daily and the staff are tight-lipped about its contents, but it’s known to sometimes be offal. A good tip for those who can’t handle their gluten, or are watching their waistlines: lettuce cups can be substituted for tortillas.
If you’re feeling particularly ravenous, keep your eyes peeled for their ad hoc taco eating competitions which are often organised during festival season or on a Mexican holiday. The deal is to eat as many as you can throw down in 15 minutes, but beware: they’re slathered with Dan Hong’s spicy sauce. The next one for 2014 is on March 25, but a word of advice from this writer and past taco-eating female champion: you need a stomach of steel to come out of this comp unscathed.
64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills or at the Slip Inn, 111 Sussex Street, Sydney; 02 9211 4945; www.elloco.com.au
Top Taco: Jaias y jalapeno. The soft shell crab is fresh and tender, and the lighter option on the menu.
Taking your tastebuds on a trip to Oaxaca, El Topo gives us a taste of traditional Central Mexican flavours. There are three tacos on offer: the cochinita pibil (roast pork, radish and pickled onion, $6), the pollo negro (grilled chicken, black bean, and corn salsa, $6) and the newest and most popular addition, the jaias y jalapeno (soft shell crab, mulato mayo and a jalapeno and cactus salsa, $8). But for those sceptics who think tacos just won’t fill you up, the best way to go about things is to order one of the bigger mains, and add some tortillas ($1 for two) on the side. Try the traditional slow-cooked lamb shoulder, with a traditional mole sauce ($30) or the 12-hour beef brisket with Oaxacan barbecue sauce ($34). This joint is oozing atmosphere, and with ample seating, including a courtyard and a long communal table. After a tough day of shopping, this is the best place to refuel with ample options at the ready. (Don’t forget the roasted crickets!)
500 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction; (02) 8383 5959; www.theeastern.com.au
Top Taco: Baja fish taco. Flaky fish with a spicy Baja sauce goes down a treat on a hot day.
Lazing around at the beach can really work up an appetite, so as your newly golden belly growls with hunger, head on over to this tiny Manly bar that’s full of spunk and looks just like you’ve stumbled upon a little corner of Mexico. Put the fries-stuffed burritos out of your mind (but definitely consider them next time) and get the soft shell fish tacos, the best on the menu. They’ve got a crispy batter with a Baja-style spicy cream. The Tama Asada (grilled steak with fried corn and pickled onions) or the Cochinita Pibil (shredded pork with salsa and pickled onions) are also both satisfactory options. All tacos are $5 and are only available in the evening. To enjoy them properly, they should definitely be served with a crusty beer (salt-rimmed beer) or two.
7 The Corso, Manly; (02) 9976 5255; www.chicabonita.com.au
Top Taco: Chipotle beef taco. Slow cooked beef in spicy chipotle peppers gives an authentic taste of Mexico.
A little further north in Narrabeen, Mexicano head chef Sean Prenter and his team showcase their fresh take on modern and street-style Mexican. Sean takes pride in sourcing fresh, quality and local produce so you can take comfort in your food being some of the tastiest and most authentic around. All the tortillas are traditionally hand rolled and pressed daily using wheat and corn masa flours. Must-try tacos are the Mexican fish taco, with battered local fish of the day and a spicy chipotle mayo ($16 for three) and the chipotle beef brisket ($16 for three) or for a hearty vegetarian option, go the roasted winter taco (pumpkin, eggplant, zucchini and local cheese, $13 for three). We also hear a little whisper that the owners are opening up a new taqueria-style venue, MX, in Mona Vale soon.
Shop 2, 209-211 Ocean Street, Narrabeen; (02) 9970 8975; www.mexicano.com.au
Top Taco: Huachinango. The grilled snapper is a lighter option with ample flavour thanks to the guajillo salsa.
Glebe’s long-standing Mexican haunt is known for it cheap tacos and glowing wall of tequilas. Using fresh, seasonally available produce as well as imported spices and sauces that are usually only found in Mexico or the US, the taco menu is well-researched and constantly changes. For $14.90 you get two fresh, soft corn tortillas which you can fill with either Huachinango (grilled snapper, in a guajillo salsa, black beans, and queso fresco), Huitlacoche y Hongos (mexican corn truffles, braised mushrooms, salsa verde and queso fresco), Pollo Asado (grilled chicken in a guajillo salsa, black beans and queso fresco) or the taco stalwart, Al Pastor (roasted pork with pineapple salsa). If you’re looking for a mid-week meal that won’t reach too deep in your pockets, Flying Fajita Sisters also offers Taco Tuesday, where tacos and shots of tequila are a measly $3, making it that much more easy to say ‘si’ to a taco fiesta.
65 Glebe Point Road, Glebe; (02) 9552 6522; www.flyingfajitasistas.com.au
DIY taco recipe
Turn your kitchen into a taqueria and host your own taco party. Put the cervezas on ice and try out our recipe for Californian Baja fish tacos.
Fish tacos with avocado salsa
Makes 10 tacos
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, de-seeded, finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
½ large avocado, cut into cubes
2 radishes, finely sliced
½ bunch coriander, finely chopped
1 tbs plain flour
1 tbs ground sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbs olive oil
2 large white fish fillets
10 small flour tortillas
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1. To make avocado salsa, mix tomatoes, onion, avocado, radish and coriander into a small bowl. Squeeze over juice of half the lime and mix gently.
2. Mix flour, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add fish fillets one at a time, coating the whole fillet with the flour mixture.
3. Heat oil in a large fry pan and add fish fillets. Cook for 4 minutes on each side until cooked through. Allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a plate and slice into 1cm pieces.
4. Meanwhile, heat a small, dry frypan to medium heat. Fry the tortillas, one at a time, for 20 seconds on each side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
5. To serve, add a few slices of cabbage to the middle of a tortilla and top with 4 pieces of fish. Top with salsa mixture and douse with as much hot sauce as you can handle.
El Topo and DIY taco photos by Leigh Griffiths.
Published on February 26, 2014 by Eloise Basuki