This we know because we grabbed a Mexican who we found doing capoeira in a park with a bunch of Brazilians and dragged her around three of what purported to be London’s best Mexican takeaway joints. Turns out that if they were trying to peddle their burritos back home, they’d be hounded out quicker than the spring break kids being chased out of Tijuana by the warring Sinaloa and Gulf drug gangs.
Photos by Ben Rayner
27 UPPER STREET, ISLINGTON, N1
Consumed: 1 x beef burrito, 1 x Modelo Especial beer
Vice: So, how does this place compare to a real-deal Mexican cantina?
Melissa Tatjyanna Cotton (Mexican): First of all, I hate the decoration. There is a fireplace and all of these weird paintings everywhere. I feel like I am in an English guy’s living room. In Mexico it would just be an old building with peeling paint and maybe a band.
How about the food?
The tortilla is awful. It is all floury and hard. Real tortillas are made out of cornflour and you get them nice and fresh. Also, you would never get it all tied up like a little baby in tin foil. You get the wrap and there is a big spread and you just make your own fajita or burrito.
Like a DIY dinner. Is there anything good about this place?
The beer is a brand that you get in Mexico but it is actually made in the same factory as Corona. No one over here seems to know that and guys always buy it thinking they look sophisticated but anyone that knows would laugh in their faces. The meat is not totally gross, it seems quite fresh and I really like the guacamole. It actually tastes of avocado.
What does English guacamole usually taste of?
I make my own. I tried some from Sainsbury’s once and it tasted like sewage. TORTILLA
13 ISLINGTON HIGH STREET, NI
Consumed: 1x pork taco, 1x chicken taco, 1 x Dos Equis beer
This place has benches. It reminds me of being at school.
No, no, that is how a lot of the cantinas are. They are very communal places. You poke people in the eyes and argue and eat off each other’s plates.
That doesn’t sound so hygienic.
Don’t be silly, a meal is there to be a shared experience, not some weird lonely thing you do on your own.
Hmm, I’m not so into eating off another guy’s plate.
It’s fine. Don’t be a baby. In fact that is my main problem with these Mexican restaurants in London. They are all too clean. It is like being in a hospital. Look at the guy making the food: he is wearing rubber gloves. It’s horrible.
Aside from health and safety, how do you rate the tacos here?
The food is served in baskets, which is ridiculous. That is how food is served in American diners. But the actual food is good. The meat is seasoned which is very important in Mexican cooking. We sometimes season meat for days. The tacos are pretty good as well.
Wow, you sound like you actually like it.
It’s nice to eat but not that authentic. It still tastes like a roll of meat with a load of other stuff in it. Other than it all being a bit clinical, that is the main issue. All of these places are just an English version of Mexican food. Not the real thing. MEXICALI
26 BERWICK STREET, SOHO, W1
Consumed: 1x chicken quesadilla, 1x Coca-Cola
This one’s in a cardboard box. It looks a bit like a Mexican McDonald’s.
Wrong again. You’ve clearly never been to Mexico, have you?
Food is often served on temporary cardboard plates and trays, so this is actually pretty good. It’s not a million miles away from how you would be given your taco in a cantina.
OK, how about what’s in the box? That quesadilla looks a bit like a quiche.
It is the worst so far. I think the box would probably taste a whole lot better. The other real problem here is the rice. A real Mexican would have rice on the side and it would be sticky. None of this dry crap all over the place. It’s awful. If the rice is sticky it helps the whole thing stick together. This looks like a pizza that a big fat person sat on.
How about the restaurant’s interior?
The wooden seats are like an Ikea version of what you might get in Mexico, like a horrible, cheap version made out of lollipop sticks. It is all too bright and clean and they are also playing Lily Allen. I like her a lot as a singer and a lyricist but she isn’t Mexican.
What would you like to be hearing?
Some salsa or some mariachi would be nice but often there is no music and people just talk and laugh.
CINCO DE JAMES KNIGHT