El Loco is a strange beast. It’s a ramshackle Mexican ‘Cantina’ that’s attached itself to the back of the Excelsior hotel like some exotic, brightly coloured parasite. It’s even taken over the main section of the pub, with gingham PVC covers stapled onto the bar tables. The fit-out is messy but deliberately messy. Like those girls who take hours teasing their hair to make it look like they just rolled out of bed.
I know the Mexcian food trend is, like, ‘SO three months ago’ BUT I am a sucker for a good taco and I’ve heard great things about El Loco. I had the mistaken impression that El Loco was a ‘casual Mexican restaurant’, but it’s actually a tequila bar with tacos on the bar menu.
How are those two things different in any way? Well, with the latter, you have to wait in line for 20 minutes while tequila shots are prepared for and drunk by all the people in front of you. Annoying, when you’re only there to eat like a teetotalling food nerd.
In normal circumstances I might have tried a slushie cocktail but I was there with my baby cousin (she’s 22…. but still a baby to me) so I felt it best to keep the night alcohol-free. And I TOTALLY got judged for it!! When I ordered Cokes, little miss Chilli Peppers t-shirt and red flannel gave me a ‘Why are you even here?‘ look and then told me that normally, she’d just go to the regular bar (which was ONE METRE away) and get the soft drinks for me but it was ‘really busy’ so I’d have to go around and order them myself.
‘Okay sure‘ I said, not realising this meant another 15 minute wait. Ugh. Wanting to punch the bartender right in his well-groomed coiff at this point.
I took the “one of everything on the menu, please!” approach when ordering tacos ($5 each). Below there is pork, lemongrass beef, chicken, barramundi and also an Excelsior hot dog which is a grilled Frankfurt sausage in a soft bun with pickled jalapenos, pico de gallo, mayonnaise and cheese ($9).
Sorry that the photos look like the faded pictures of a 70’s cookbook… not sure what happened there.
With Dan Hong at the helm, the food here is actually fusion Asian/Mexican, and you’ll notice that your tacos taste more like vietnamese summer rolls than the sloppy, saucy Mexican you’re used to. You’ll get a crunch of fresh asian greens with each bite – cabbage, coriander and spring onion – and if you want , you can just go full Asian and convert your tacos into San Choy Bau by substituting tortillas with lettuce leaves.
The tacos are tasty – but not mind blowing – I actually thought they’d be a bit fancier. Dan Hong’s vision of a taco seems to be Taco-Lite – Mexican food for the health conscious hipster. Fatties may be disappointed.
We actually preferred the hot dog over the tacos – in fact, this is probably the one thing I’d go back for. Look at that flossy cheese!! And with creamy mayo and a jalapeno kick – I think this may be my favourite hot dog in Sydney.
Tip: Err on the side of over-ordering. Six tacos and a hot dog was not enough for three hungry people, so I took one for the team and stood back in line to order a few more things. We got the El Loco Salad because it looked really impressive:
Chicken with cabbage, fennel and radish salad topped with tortilla crisps and cheese ($15). Again, super healthy. And while long, thin tortilla chips look really cool when piled on a plate, they’re actually pretty hard to eat.
We also got the chorizo quesadilla with jalapeño, cheese, and chipotle mayo ($7). Delicious – but so small! Yeah it’s 7 dollars but I think I’d prefer if the prices were higher and the portions were bigger – it’s confusing to see something on the menu described as a ‘quesadilla’ and then be served two quarters of a quesadilla… but I guess the menu is not designed as dinner food. It seems to be more like a ‘Food to line your stomach for a night of tequila’ menu.
On the other hand, it’s also fun to be able to try more than half the things on the menu and still end up with a reasonable bill amount.
El Loco is a great place for a casual and (relatively) cheap night out with mates if you don’t mind:
1. Lining up
2. Sharing tables
3. Yelling over the noise
And if you and your mates also happen to LOVE tequila, you’ll probably have a lot more fun than I did. Mainly because the barstaff will be a lot nicer to you.