It seems like Merivale have gone a little loco lately. First the insanity of Freaky Tiki, now this: a downtrodden Surry Hills pub transformed into a Mexican cantina. El Loco is a temporary solution to the reinvention of this venue, a prequel to a fully blown Mexican restaurant. But we think the wild mishmash of this whirlwind transition is the best part about it.
Gone is the band room and, while we deeply regret the loss of another live music venue in Surry Hills, it's looking good. The previously sound-proofed walls have been pulled apart and repainted with brightly coloured cacti and skulls in Mexican hats. Lights hang from exposed beams and the busy kitchen stands open for observation.
While there's a few options on the menu, this place is all about the soft tacos (all $5). Don't expect an entirely traditional offering, however. While this place is conceptually Mexican, the food's strength is its subtle Asian twist. I loved the Carne Asada, with lemongrass beef and salsa verde, and the Queso de Soya, chilli marinated tofu with pico de gallo.
The front room remains more recognisable as a pub-style bar, with classic tap beers, wine and spirits still on offer. The new addition here is the tequilas, with over twenty varieties to pick and choose from. The cocktail menu is a little pricier than the food, with all options at $13.50, but the margaritas are justifiably delicious.
With opening hours that stretch to 3am on weekends, this is a great late night option for a drink and a bite. Remember that it's only temporary though, so make the most of these tacos and get in quick.