As much as people complain about the hipsters taking over, ruining our old pubs and turning them into feux-Mexican abominations, it’s difficult to say a bad word about El Loco. The old Excelsior pub has been rejuvenated by Mr Hemmes and his Merivale posse and the result is a fun night out with delicious modern Mexican food and an array of tequila concoctions to knock your Hispanic socks off.
Dan Hong, a Merivale darling and former head chef at Lotus, has taken the reigns in the kitchen to create a menu that is sure to please the majority of your party. You come here for the $5 tacos and the Carne Asada (lemongrass beef, salsa verde, queso) and Al Pastor (spit roasted pork, pineapple salsa) should be your first choices. Surprisingly, the Queso de Soya (chilli marinated tofu, pico de gallo) was delicious even if I ordered it by mistake. I never thought a recommendation for a tofu taco would escape my lips.
The eye candy at El Loco is also worth the trip as beautiful fashionistas mingle with media types and the odd suit. Giant wooden cactuses serve as table numbers and the food is brought out quickly by sleek staff who clearly ticked the personable box on their application form. Stools and long share tables make up the furniture and are surprisingly comfortable so much so that the minutes quickly turn into hours, the margaritas into tequila shots (Herradurra anejo por favor), and a quiet Thursday night dinner ends up at Ding Dong Dang singing Karaoke in the wee hours of Friday morning.
The only real disappointment on the menu was the hot dog. Called the Excelsior Hot Dog ($9), it is made up of a grilled pork Frankfurt served on a soft bun with pickled jalapenos, pico ge gallo, mayonnaise and cheese. It’s not especially inspiring and immediately forgettable. A serving of churros with chocolate dipping sauce for dessert more than makes up for the not-so-hot dog and on the two occasions I’ve been bold enough to try a “secret taco”, I’ve not regretted it.
Mexican Cantina Y Barra
64 Foveaux Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9211 4945