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London Taco Tour: Corazón Taqueria

London is now a taco town! Over the last two years, some excellent taquerias and innovative Mexican restaurants have opened. And tacos have been deemed “the food trend of 2017” by some London food bloggers.

So we sent our correspondent, Julia Walsh, to London on a taco tour. We’ll be posting her London Taco Tour updates on Taco Tuesdays!

Here is her latest report: 

During my reporting on the Manx-Mex Chronicles, I was invited to go down to London for a taco tour. There has been a huge uptick in the number of Mexican restaurants, taquerias, and mezcal bars in the last year or so, and bloggers all over are raving about them! So I packed my bags and headed to London.

I would have liked to get a breakfast taco but found nothing open before noon, so I spent the morning in a coffee shop narrowing down top 5 restaurants based on menu and distance. Soon I was strolling over to Corazón Taqueria. The building looks and feels like a beach home in Cabo – open, airy, decorated in blues and whites reminiscent of the sea.

Arriving about half past noon, I was mildly surprised that the place was entirely empty except for myself and the staff (just after opening on a Monday isn’t their busiest hour). Choosing a seat was easy thanks to the open, accordion-style window overlooking a couple of small white tables on the outside.

I looked over the menu. One page was the “Counter Offer”, which was a plate of two tacos with sides. I was more interested in getting a variety of tacos, so I stuck to the regular menu. After chatting with the bartender I knew the most popular sellers on the taco menu are the Carnitas, Baja Fish, and Guv’nor (king prawns and baby shrimp grilled with peppers, tomatoes, and onions). I ordered the Carnitas, Barbacoa, and Baja fish tacos to compare with the Mexican flavors I’m used to.

The Carnitas taco – pork cooked in orange juice, cinnamon, and Mexican oregano.

I started with the Carnitas taco, which was stuffed with a combination of shredded pork belly and collar. The pork is slow cooked in orange juice, Mexican oregano, and cinnamon then topped with bits of crunchy fried skin and flecks of pickled jalapeño. It was served with a classic roasted tomatillo salsa that had a low level, creeping heat. The orange and cinnamon were stronger and sweeter than I’m used to, which added another dimension to the rich pork, making an excellent taco. And all wrapped up in a house-made tortilla! I breathed a sigh of contentment.

The Barbacoa Taco – lamb shoulder and liver cooked low and slow.

I eagerly dug into my next taco, the Barbacoa. Corazón’s version of barbacoa was a combination of lamb shoulder and liver, wrapped in banana leaf and cooked for 7 hours. When I ordered it, I’d had a dreamy vision of tender, flavorful lamb paired with creamy liver for a double whammy of richness, but unfortunately, the long cooking time meant the liver had become tough and crumbly, which took away from my pleasure in eating it. The lamb was rich and had a dark red color to it, but even with the added liver, it seemed sadly one dimensional in flavor after the carnitas taco. The salsa served on the side was mind-blowing, though. It’s made with tequila, tomato, onion, tomatillo, ancho, chipotle, and honey, which created a smokey and complex sauce and gave the taco life.

The Baja Fish Taco – exceptionally crunchy battered fish over cabbage with chipotle mayo.

The Baja fish taco was another pleasant surprise. Despite being left until last, the battered fish was delightfully crunchy. All of the tacos at Corazón are well-stuffed, but this was an enormous piece of meaty fish, with an excellent crispy batter, on top of crunchy cabbage with a chipotle mayo. I hate it when the fish gets overpowered by the creamy sauce, but the chipotle mayo was light and not too sweet, a perfect compliment. The whole thing was served on a blue corn tortilla, which had it’s own lovely, mild sweetness that’s different from a standard corn tortilla.

Taking out the camera and shooting sexy close-ups of the tacos kind of tipped off my bartenders and servers, Verena and Nick, that I wasn’t just grabbing a casual lunch. After admitting my goals for the day, we chatted about the menu and the items they like, as well as other taquerias in the area.

Verena has been a bartender for years and worked all over, including at Glastonbury. Her family is Rastafarian and Muslim, so she didn’t eat pork when she started working at Corazón. But when they had a menu tasting, she said to herself, well, I have to try it. When she first bit into the Carnitas taco, she was wooed. And when she recently sampled an item that will be coming to the menu soon (whole pig head boiled in stock, which is then reduced with booze and butter and served on a mass (pan)cake), she said it was “so amazing.” “Well, I guess I’m back [to eating pork]!” she laughed. Her description made me wonder when it would be feasible to visit London again after it made its debut.

The atmosphere at Corazón is pleasantly relaxed, and I had such a great time lounging around and eating delicious tacos near the window on this beautiful, sunny afternoon. Laura Sheffield, the boss and owner, is from College Station, Texas and worked with a Mexican anthropologist to develop the menu. No wonder that these tacos made me feel like I was back home in Texas.

I think Verena could tell I was reluctant to leave this little oasis despite the day ahead of me, because she invited me back for a margarita that evening to continue our chat. I thanked her and told her honestly I’d be happily flopping into bed at the end of the day. It was getting late so I said a fond farewell and zipped out the door to my next destination.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Manchester’s Top 5 for Tex-Mex

I’ve had a wonderful time here in Manchester, and have had some hilarious and some great experiences while hunting down the available Tex-Mex as part of the Manx-Mex Chronicles. As a wrap up to the series, here are my Top 5 Tex-Mex tastes of the series by post.

I am judging these by the food accuracy (how close it is to actual Tex-Mex or food you’d find in Texas) and overall enjoyment of the food and the location. Counting down from number 5 (least) to number 1 (most):

Number Five: Un Burrito at Chango’s

This post makes number five because the burrito itself was good, made with accurate and delicious ingredients, offered a great variety of tasty hot sauces, and had a convenient, casual location. It’s not a place that feels like you’d want to hang out longer than it took to eat, though.

Number Four: Enchiladas at Las Iguanas

Despite the odd serving choices (A simple enchilada in a burrito sized flour tortilla? A lake of refried beans with a rice island in the middle?) the flavors on this dish really made it stand out. The refried black beans were more than just a bland paste and the roasty, chipotle flavor in the red sauce really made this dish shine.

Number Three: Crazy Cal-Mex at Luck, Lust, Liquor and Burn

While these are definitely in the realm of Cal-Mex instead of Tex-Mex, I really loved the nachos we had at LLLB, as well as the place itself. The drinks were my favorite overall (I still drool remembering that super smooth añejo mezcal and excellent Lagerita with grapefruit!), they have a great location in Northern Quarter, and little details like the tiles on the tables and crazy menu style made me feel relaxed and at home. The nachos were fun and offered over the top choices mixed with traditional ingredients, were covered heavily and evenly with toppings, and stayed crispy to the last bites. Plus, just LOOK at that pile of jalepeños!

Number Two: Fajitas Bonitas at Chiquito

Maybe it was because the place was empty when we went, but Chiquito had a more relaxed than fun feeling to it. The drink selection was very good, and these steak fajitas made my heart soar when they hit the table. The smell, the sizzle, the taste! Medium rare steak slices over sweet onions and bell pepper rolled into tempting tacos was a bite of Tex-Mex taste. It was a journey home on a plate, and definitely a great dish!

Number One: Mission de Mayo at Las Iguanas

Yes, I already did a dish from Las Iguanas, but it really was a satisfying experience and my favorite location overall. The restaurant is brightly colored, full of lively customers, and has good deals on appetizers and drinks which add to the upbeat and fun vibe. After a string of disappointments, these nachos felt like a gift from above!  These are what I consider to be the closest to the kind of nachos I know and love – A plethora of traditional toppings, gooey melty cheese, and a good ratio of chips to toppings.

 

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Moving On!

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her last report:

Well, friends, my time in Manchester is coming to a close. I’ve had a blast checking out the local take on Tex-Mex and reporting back to you. Watch for a round-up in coming weeks of my Manx-Mex Top 5!

And to end my English Tex-Mex reporting with a bang, I’m heading to London!

The staff of Breddos eating an afternoon meal

 

There’s currently a new wave of Mexican and Tex-Mex spots in Soho and the West End, and I’ll be visiting as many as I can in a final wrap-up mini-series to be titled: London Taco Tour. Keep an eye out for links posted to Facebook on Tuesdays under #LondonTacoTour!

I’ll see you all back here next TacoTuesday with my first report!

Galveston’s Italian Olive Tradition

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Fifteen: What’s On Offer

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

In Chapter Thirteen of the Manx-Mex Chronicles, I mentioned that the understanding of Tex-Mex among the locals here in the UK seems to be mainly informed by the Old El Paso display in the grocery store.

After writing that, I realized that taking a closer look at what’s on offer at the grocery store might provide some more insights into the taste for Tex-Mex among the locals (the grocery store is only going to offer what sells!) and tell us more about the Tex-Mex influence on the UK’s food culture. So I took my camera and strolled around the local grocery store, documenting what I found.

Let’s begin with the obvious. This is the “Mexican” section of the store:

All THREE of my salsa choices!

The yellow branding of Old El Paso dominates the shelves, taking up more than 50% of the space. Most  of the boxes are quick meal kits and taco shells, both hard and signature standing style. There are only three kinds of salsa available, though my favorite friend, Cholula, is present. Demand for normal tortillas also seems low – the tortillas take up only a tiny half shelf of the section (By comparison, on the other side of the aisle, the naan and papadums take up four times that amount). This is also the only area of the store where you can find sour cream or guacamole, (actually, it’s a guacamole “style” sauce). I’m not sure how I feel about these being made shelf stable, as I’m used to both items having to be refrigerated.

 

I also use the quotations around “Mexican” for a reason. Approximately a quarter of the section is dedicated to sauces and seasonings that are from South America or Central America. They even say so on the package!

Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Carribean flavors featured here.

If you came this area of the store looking for authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex items, I’d say you’d be sorely disappointed. However, as I continued searching, my spirits were lifted. While the “Mexican” section may be a bit pan-Latino, Tex-Mex flavors are infiltrating the entire store.

 

 

 

 

 

The deli section offers both a “Mexican style” chipotle shredded pork and beef, as well as Mexican flavored chicken fillets. I was naturally suspicious of what these Mexican-flavored items might actually be made with, but I found cumin, chilli, oregano, garlic powder and onion powder in the ingredients, so they didn’t seem far off the mark.

There was a Chilli con Carne flavored pizza available (usually pizza places here have some kind of Mexican flavor featuring jalepeños for the bold), as well as a Mexican chicken bake meal (chicken covered in mild bell pepper and chilli salsa, cheese, and tortilla chips), and a frozen barbacoa taco meal from TGIFriday’s. Some snacks I saw offered seemed alright but had odd twists thrown in (like a Mexican rice and bean snack with harissa sauce, which is associated with Tunisia and Libya).

Mexicana cheese is another interesting find. Mexicana is a brand, but it seems like it’s also become a variety of cheese.  The one I got from the store says it was prepared by the cheesemonger, so I don’t think it’s the actual brand. It doesn’t have a specific ingredient list either, but it says it contains “spicy chilli and mixed peppers”. The cheese tastes strongly of cumin, is pretty spicy, and makes a hell of a quesadilla too.

But what surprised me most was finding some honest-to-god Tex-Mex in the prepared foods section. I thought that it would be easier to find true Tex-Mex in a restaurant than in the grocery store, but I may have been proven wrong.

Both this Chilli con Carne and Fajita Chicken actually SAY Tex-Mex on the label, and are recognizable Tex-Mex dishes–even if they did pair the Chilli con Carne with plain rice!

What I took away from this experience:

  1. UK Tex-Mex is here to stay.
  2. Mexican flavors are wildly popular in the snack food category (though finding something spicy is still hit or miss).
  3. The geography of Latin America is a bit blurry in this part of the world.
  4. The only tequila in the store is a small bottle of plata (silver).

But most of all, I found that Tex-Mex is now embraced by the mainstream, even if shoppers are only beginning to be offered what Texans would consider real Tex-Mex.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Fourteen: Crazy Cal-Mex

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Tucked in the corner of a building in the winding streets of the Northern Quarter, Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn (or LLLB for short) shares the street with a just a few other eateries and a couple of well curated little shops. We opted to sit at a long, thin table topped with Mexican-inspired tiles in the back of the downstairs seating area, close to some windows facing the ornate doors to the former Manchester Wholesale Fish Market. On their website, Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn describes their restaurant concept like a rock’n’roll road trip. “We drove from Vegas to Mexico in a frenetic haze of food, booze, and all the naughtiness that the Golden State had to offer. Luck Lust Liquor & Burn brings bold exciting Californian style Mexican food to Manchester’s Northern Quarter.”

After my report last week, I wanted to specifically seek out Tex-Mex dishes and restaurants and give them a fair chance to represent their take on the regional cuisine of my home state. I have to admit that there are few restaurants here that have a dedicated Tex-Mex menu or theme, but many of them offer a mixture of Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, and Mexican dishes or a menu with a mixed Latin influence. I narrowed my search to “best nachos in Manchester” and was presented with a list of options, but the highest rated among them seemed to be Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn. One review specifically mentioned an even covering of toppings on the nachos (the lack of which I’d been lamenting about my nacho experiences so far) so I decided I had to try them.

The menu is stylized to look like a taped together collage made of punk attitude and delicious, over the top items. We started out with a pint of San Miguel lager, two shots of mezcal, and a Lagerita (a margarita made with grapefruit juice and mixed with San Miguel – unusually good and refreshing!). I’ve been struggling to find any mezcal here in Manchester, especially a reposado or añejo, so that smooth, smoky shot was a real treat and a great start to our visit.

The regular menu offers three different types of nachos, but the bar menu gave six scrumptious sounding options. I decided to go with the simple Cheese Bean Goodness Supreme, which sounded the closest to a classic Tex-Mex nacho as they offered on this menu. (I haven’t seen any other restaurant offer refried beans on the nachos!) My boyfriend chose the Volcano Nachos, which included beef chili with chorizo.

I was a little worried when our trays of nachos hit the table. There seemed to be plenty of their colorful chipotle sour cream, taco sauce, and “guac” (more like an avocado sauce to me), but I didn’t immediately see any melted cheese or refried beans on my chips. However, I was relieved to find that they were just buried underneath the sauces and the pile of jalepeños in the middle of the plate. The refries were simple and somewhat bland,  but they were still a welcome change from what I’ve eaten so far with plenty of melty cheese to go with them. The sundried tomatoes were also a nice twist on the classic flavors. I had to split the toppings between fully loaded and barely covered chips, but I was pleased that even the chips in the very middle of the Mount Toppings stayed crunchy down to the last bite.

The Volcano Nachos looked almost exactly the same as my own plate, except that you could see some of the beans and corn kernels from the chili sticking out between the layers (blasphemy in Texas, but widely accepted and loved here in England). The chorizo gave the chili a more complex flavor than the normally sweet chili-con-carne here and complimented the chipotle sour cream and guac sauce beautifully. They definitely had more of a spicy kick than my own nachos, which only made the drinks go down faster.

Though I know they’re not classic Tex-Mex, I’m sure I’ll go back to Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn to try out some of their other dishes or have a go at Taco Tuesday (all street tacos for £1!).

 

As a note, I’ll be visiting Belgium later this week, so next week’s update will be postponed until June 19th. I look forward to seeing you then!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Thirteen: Yee-huh?

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Early on in my stay, my boyfriend’s workplace booked reservations at a “global buffet”. I was excited to see they had an entire section devoted to Tex-Mex, complete with its own visible grill, and I was eager to document it as part of the Manx-Mex Chronicles. However, when I got the counter, I was deeply disappointed. The only items being made on the grill were plain hamburgers. The rest of the dishes offered were barbecued chicken slathered in a sweet sauce, piri piri chicken wings, fajita vegetables, chili con carne, and a bowl of plain tortilla chips with no salsa or anything to go with them. I understand the ties between barbecue and Texas, I thought to myself, but how did this mix of foods end up on a Tex-Mex buffet table?

As the series has progressed, we’ve seen some hilarious mishaps and not-quite-right adaptations on classic Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes. As I stared at menus offering what I considered to be “incorrect” ingredients and lamented the dismal technique, I wondered to myself how anyone who is serving Tex-Mex could make such rookie mistakes. I think the basis of my critique was assuming that they knew what Tex-Mex IS, even in its most basic terms, and that’s where I’ve had to stop and re-evaluate.

Over the course of our long friendship, my now boyfriend Andy has tried to explain to me how Texas is perceived in England. The first time we talked voice to voice, he was surprised (and he admits, somewhat disappointed) that I did not speak with a classic Texas twang or drawl. Though there is an enormous amount of American television and culture streaming into England, he says, the only real images and perceptions of Texas that England gets are distorted through the lens of American perception and stereotype. Things like the tv show Dallas, with its oil baron, cowboy hat wearing family. The song “Is This the Way to Amarillo” by Tony Christie and “Galveston” by Glen Campbell (this recording was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, so please don’t mind the shout out at the end).

In the end, I’ve concluded that if something so broad as Texas gets compressed down in this fashion it’s no wonder that something as nuanced as Tex-Mex is going to lose some pieces in the translation. Even a large percentage of America is still griping that Tex-Mex is just bastardized Mexican food instead of recognizing it as its own regional cuisine. So, knowing that, you can imagine what it must be like when some of the only references you have to Mexican and Tex-Mex food are the Old El Paso display at the grocery store and the melange of Latin American flavors offered in “Tex-Mex” restaurants. All of that said, I think that England is getting better and better at executing true Tex-Mex.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Twelve: Enchilada and Tacos

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Las Iguanas continued to deliver a quality experience all the way through the meal. The timing between courses was perfect – after munching starters and then building our hunger up again with more margaritas, the mains hit the table.

My enchilada (yes, singular) was stuffed with chicken, onion, and cheese, and presented on a bed of black beans with an island of rice in the middle. I was disappointed that the tortilla was a burrito sized flour tortilla that was pretty much raw (aside from likely being stuck under a Salamander to melt the cheese on top), but the red sauce had a great, smoky chipotle flavor and tied the whole plate together, so I let the tortilla slide.

The Steak and Queso tacos were listed in the Mexican section of the menu but definitely showed Argentinian flair. The queso was melted to the inside of the corn and flour tortillas, then they were stacked with marinated steak and topped with chimichurri and pink pickled onions. I know they serve fries in Argentina too, but these thick, unseasoned chips felt distinctly English. The small side salad was a pleasant surprise too. It was topped with what we mistook for tiny tomatoes until we bit into them and got a burst of peppery flavor. I think they might have been Pimenta Biquinho, or Little Beak Peppers.

All in all, Las Iguanas more than satisfied my Cinco de Mayo needs, and I’d be happy to go back there again.

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Eleven: The Queso Returns

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

Last week I was ecstatic to finally get a good plate of nachos from Las Iguanas. Imagine how happy I was to also get a quesadilla experience to make up for the previous pub blunders I’d dealt with!

As I mentioned last week, appetizers were 3 for £15 (pitchers of drinks were buy-one-get-one, too! You can imagine the glee and chaos.) We ordered the nachos, a mushroom quesadilla, and an order of empanadas.

The quesadillas were spot on and absolutely delectable. Big, rough cut chunks of garlicky mushrooms were ensconced in melty cheese and grilled tortilla. I wasn’t much of a fan of the bland, basic salsa served with them, but there was plenty of guacamole and sour cream on the nachos to satisfy my needs.

 

Unfortunately, the empanadas were…less delicious. Honestly, they were pretty gross. Neither of the menu choices were traditional fillings, but the mango and brie option gave me daydreams of soft, gooey brie melting over sweet mango fruit or preserves, so I had to order them and give them a shot. They were mostly folds of soft, puffy dough, and the filling was a disaster of raw onion and cheese with underripe mango barely detectable inside. The only saving grace was the delicious cranberry pepper jam served on the side, which ended up being spread over pretty much everything else we ate.

So far, it’s been 2 out of 3, which isn’t bad. Next week, I’ll be digging into some delicious enchiladas and some steak tacos. Until next time!

Manx-Mex Chronicles: Chapter Ten: Mission de Mayo

Tortilla chips and salsa, chili con carne, and fajitas are now typical European bar food. Rare is the English pub that doesn’t serve “nachos.” The influence of Tex-Mex on world cuisine fascinates us here at Texas Eats. So when our correspondent, Julia Walsh, moved to Manchester, England in January 2017, we asked her to chronicle Tex-Mex influences on the local English fare. Here is her latest report:

On Friday, I woke up with a mission in mind: to locate and demolish a good plate of nachos. My recent experiences left me feeling reluctant to trust a pub to deliver the hot, cheesy goodness I was looking for, and with it being Cinco de Mayo, I needed a sure thing.

I found myself at Las Iguanas in Deansgate, who describe their food as “a mouth-watering confusion of native Latin American Indian, Spanish, Portuguese and African influences” and offer a “Mexican” section of the menu. (Restaurants here list themselves as Mexican, not Tex-Mex, but they often feature Tex-Mex dishes on their menus.) They looked like a promising place to go.

Delicious!

The starters were 3 for £15 and nachos topped the list, so we dove right in. I ordered the basic nachos (cheese, pico de gallo, roasted tomato salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and jalapenos) with refried black beans added. Despite the English style piles of wet ingredients, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see piles of molten, gooey goodness at the edges of the plate. The chips were dusted with an ancho chili salt, a welcome contrast to the plain corn chips I’ve been getting. The black beans came on the side for some reason, so after my initial photos, I poured them carefully over the whole plate.

Just look at that glorious stretch!

These nachos were crunchy, melty, and delicious, delivering all the right sensations and flavors. Mission accomplished.