London’s Best Tacos
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
The recent rise of Mexican food in London has been a long time coming; for years we tolerated the horrors of Tex-Mex with its many re-arrangements of tomato sauce, floppy tortillas and grated orange cheese.
The cuisines of Mexico are varied and many, and with ingredients now more readily available in the UK and chefs keen to show what can be done with them, Londoners are being treated to an explosion of new and interesting flavours. Here’s the best of the Mexican wave…
Best for… authentic flavours
Tacos El Pastor
You’ll find Tacos El Pastor under an archway in south London’s buzzing Borough Market. It was opened in 2016 by the Hart brothers, also behind Barrafina and Quo Vadis, which means it’s a fairly slick operation. Decked out like a market place inside, festoon lights swing and the taco press relentlessly stamps freshly ground corn into tortillas up on their dedicated mezzanine taco factory.
The tacos taste the most like those we’ve eaten in Mexico, particularly the carnitas (pork), which comes with cuerito (pig skin), leaving the lips sticky with gelatinous sheen. It’s best to order all the salsas to adorn your DIY assemblies (for everything comes in constituent parts) but particularly the sunny habanero and pineapple.
We recommend sitting at the bar, ordering waves of food and sinking a few Micheladas, which is beer served in a glass with lime and a salted rim. Summertime vibes all round.
Tacos El Pastor, 6-7A Stoney Street, SE1 9AA
Best for… a quick bite
Bad Sports Taqueria
This Hackney sports bar has a taqueria upstairs, where fresh corn tortillas are pressed in-house and loaded with traditional toppings such as al pastor (pork shoulder) alongside the non-traditional, such as smoked bavette steak with chimichurri (an Argentinian steak sauce) and cheeseburger. Yes, cheeseburger. Bonus taco fact: you’ll also find cheeseburger tacos on the menu at Soho’s dedicated meat and mezcal playground, Temper.
The décor at Bad Sports is stripped back and the vibe very much east London, with trendy, tattooed staff, loud music and the tacos served on paper-lined fast food trays. It’s swift and edgy – a place to grab a few drinks, smash some tacos, then return to the important business of drinking once more. Taquerias in Mexico are not formal affairs and this place has nailed that vibe, albeit with a large side of hipster.
Bad Sports Taqueria, 184 Hackney Road, E2 7QL
Best for… slightly experimental
The Breddos team started with a street food stall, then moved on to open a permanent restaurant in Clerkenwell. Their approach is more playful than El Pastor (which opened around the same time), so you’ll find lots of fun fillings including a fried egg taco, sweetbreads with pea mole and coriander root, or Kung pao pork belly. It’s also brilliant that you can buy single tacos because portions of three between two people are very common and super annoying.
Their Baja Calfornia-style fried fish tacos also really hit the spot with their fresh, crunchy salad, white fish perfectly steamed inside its batter and squiggle of chilli spiked mayo. Don’t miss the salsa Roja either, with its depth and complexity of Mexican chillies, matured by the hot, hot sun.
Finally, we love the décor here – the room is filled with bright colours, extremely covetable stoneware and perky succulents. It’s lively, cheering and so on trend.
Breddos Tacos, 82 Goswell Road, EC1V 7DB
Best for… a warm fuzzy feeling
Cravings La Carreta
This tiny, family-run takeaway with just a few tables can be found tucked aside the White Horse pub on Peckham Rye. It’s really just a counter behind which you’ll find owners Beatriz and Raul, who make Mexican food with a little bit of Venezuelan and Columbian thrown in for good measure.
The tacos are large, and we recommend you try the pork carnitas, which comes in healthy piles of soft and crisp shredded meat, topped with salsa and pink spikes of pickled red onion. Get the avocado crema and don’t ignore the extra hot salsa on the table.
Why does it give us a warm and fuzzy feeling? Well, we’re not sure if it’s the family vibes, the Mexican party banners on the walls or the Jarritos – a selection of tooth-achingly sweet Mexican soft drinks which come in a range of neon colours.
Cravings La Carreta, 18 Peckham Rye (next to the entrance of The White Horse pub), SE15 4JR
Best for… tacos that aren’t really tacos
Ok, so they’re not really tacos in any way but look, they are inspired by tacos and they taste brilliant, so who cares? They’re actually made from injera, which is a much larger bubbly thin pancake, used in Ethiopia and Eritrea to scoop up different the dishes served on top of it – kind of like an edible plate.
The owners of LemLem Kitchen, husband and wife team Makda and Jack wanted to introduce Londoners to the staple foods of Makda’s home country, Eritrea, without having them commit to the full injera experience. The injera ‘tacos’ come topped with slow cooked meats spiced with berbere – a magical North East African spice mixture made with lots of sun-roasted chillies – it has a really unique flavour and is a must-try if you haven’t already. It’s also present in the coating on the hot wings – another essential order.
LemLem Kitchen, 13 – 23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL
Best for… staying ahead of the curve
F.A.T by Freddie
Freddie Janssen is an award-winning cook and author of a book on pickles, which makes her pretty cool by our reckoning. She pops up here and there with her tacos, which she’s practising in preparation for a permanent spot in 2018, called Snackbar (watch this space for details) in collaboration with Sebastian Myers (previously of Chiltern Firehouse and Sager + Wilde).
She’s doing a taco party at Borough Market in June where there will be a pig’s ear taco and a barbecue Carabinero prawn taco with chipotle mayo, served alongside a mamey granita. No idea what a mamey is? Us neither. Apparently, it’s a tropical fruit which tastes a bit like a creamy, sweet pumpkin with hints of vanilla.
F.A.T by Freddie, at Borough Market in June, launching permanently in 2018
Best for… vegans
These guys started out selling their tacos from a street food stall before finding themselves a permanent home at Pamela, a bar on east London’s Kingsland Road. The menu is completely vegan, so you can have pulled jackfruit tinga tacos with pumpkin seed puree, avocado salsa verde and house-pickled pink onions. If you’ve never had jackfruit then you must try it, even if you’re not vegan – the texture is so similar to pulled pork it will blow your mind.
We’re amazed that there are not yet more 100% vegan restaurants in London but whatever, this one is well worth your money in the meantime.
Club Mexicana, Pamela, 428 Kingsland Road, E8 4AA