The days of gimmicky Mexican restaurants complete with sombrero in each seat, pinatas hanging from the ceiling and tequila flowing behind the bar are gone (OK, tequila remains). Whilst London has never been at the forefront of Mexican cuisine, for somewhere home to so many guacamole lovers, it is finally starting to get the attention it deserves. If you know your quesadilla from your enchilada and your taco from your nacho, get down to one of these ten Mexican casas and sample the best London has to offer.
The first lady of Mexican food
Ella Canta burst onto the scene last year as the creation of chef Martha Ortiz. A legend in her native Mexico, Ortiz has created a menu that’s as inventive as it is delicious. Set in the Intercontinental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner it’s a must-visit for any Mexican food fans. Or, indeed, any food fans.
The one you will have heard of
The largest chain of Mexican restaurants in the UK, with fifteen restaurants in London alone, Wahaca continues to wow us with their fresh, fuss-free food and cocktails. Mexican market food takes centre stage in Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers’ venture where tequilas and mescals are sourced from family-run businesses in Mexico. It’s colourful, airy and great any time of day for an informal feast.
Lupita brings the vibrancy of Mexico City to the already-vibrant streets of east London (but also Embankment and Kensington High Street) and came to London as we know it after being El Farolito, the leading taqueria in Mexico City. The fact it came out on top as the best Mexican Restaurant in London is 2015 is impressive but try the Panuchos de Cochinita Pibil, pulled pork tortillas and that’s all you’ll need to know.
Family-run Cafe Chula is laid back and buzzy and has a prime lock side position. The chefs are Mexican, ingredients are fresh and we love them that little bit more because they serve chocolate churros, Mexican hot chocolate – all natural ingredients – and Cafe de Olla (black coffee sweetened with molasses and cinnamon). Michelada is like a Mexican Bloody Mary (but with beer) and the hibiscus margarita is vibrant. Go with friends for your quesadilla fix and three hour happy hour.
Loved by celebrities, La Bodega Negra has a sense of intimacy and mystery mainly due to its misleading sex shop frontage and candlelit cellar dining area. The food is contemporary so if you’re after the standard salsa/guacamole/sour cream consider going elsewhere – what you do get, however, is exciting and adventurous BBQ octopus, prawn jicama tacos and expertly mixed margaritas.
Lunch time burritos
A not-very Mexican sounding name but very Mexican burritos (and actually, ‘burrito’ means ‘little donkey’ so maybe it is relevant after all). Daddy Donkey is your one-stop shop for a hearty takeaway lunch but it’s no secret; be prepared to queue. The burritos are crammed so full you’ll spend a little while trying to work out how best to attack it, but once you have you won’t look back. Grab a handful of napkins when you pay – salsa slopped on your tie isn’t a great look when you head back to the office.
Sophisticated Modern Mexico in Mayfair
Were it not for the Day of the Dead skulls on the walls you’d be forgiven for not realising Peyote was Mexican at first glance. The Mayfair restaurant puts a more formal spin on the informality of Mexican style of eating. Sharing plates will be slightly more politely passed round the table rather than the every man for himself we seem to adopt in other establishments. The signature smokey margaritas will keep you going till the 2am close on Fridays and Saturdays and 1am every other day of the week.
Where: Peyote Restaurant, Cork Street, London, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Green Park (0.4 miles)
Really good fish tacos
Controversially, Taqueria in Notting Hill have trademarked the name, which is basically the same thing as Starbucks calling itself ‘coffee shop’. That aside, the tacos are good, really good. It’s undergone a recent makeover but thankfully the fish tacos remain on the menu – if you get just one thing, make it these. The fish is flaky on the inside, crispy on the outside and they get the balance of spicy/zingy/fresh just right.
Modern Mexican Diner
The DF in DF Mexico refers to ‘Distrito Federal’, the in-the-know name for Mexico City. The Shoreditch interior is modern and open, with lots going on; bright yellow chairs and benches, plants hanging from the ceiling and patterned floor tiles. At drinks refill stations you may find a lime and chia drink or a floral hibiscus concoction and food-wise expect tacos but also steak, chips and burgers (‘tortas’), all from the people behind Wahaca.
Tacos, tequila and dancing
Mestizo has been described as feeling like a ‘pop-up in a nightclub’ but don’t let that put you off – in fact it could be seen as a compliment when you consider the best Mexican food is street food, and they are known for their fun-loving sociable ways. Margaritas are strong, tacos are fully loaded and staff are friendly and visit on ‘Taco Thursdays’ for tequila, tacos, music and dancing.
Sloane Square goes Mexican
Translated as ‘nonsense’, Tonteria is the place to party, Mexican style. Dia de los Muertos floral skulls set the tone for a night of tequila and the resulting debauchery – girls dressed in latex deliver shots, as does a miniature train (yep really) to your table. Tapas is good and the tequila selection even better – can you be tempted by the £5,000 bottle of Reserva de Alma?! Prince Harry might be.