You know...globalization is a funny thing. The exchange of people, culture and ideas across borders is nothing new but sometimes it has surprising manifestations. Globalization in food, involving the migration and exchange of ingredients, spices (of course!), dishes, ideas and chefs, has had its negative side, but has also changed the way that we eat in many positive ways. One of the curious things about the exchange of recipes and cooking techniques across borders is that sometimes, foods that are the traditional forte of one culture end up being prepared better somewhere else. I've seen this on several occasions - excellent Indonesian gado gado in Dakar, a decent Russian spread in Palestine and the best French onion soup I've experienced anywhere in Washington DC. But I don't think that anything can compare to my experience at Wahaca, which I recently visited during a business trip to London. I had the best tacos that I've EVER experienced. Seriously! Considering that I grew up in Texas, have travelled in Mexico and am forever on a quest to find the best Mexican restaurants, this is a big, big deal!
During a long weekend in London last summer, the Gastronomic Nomad and I discovered Wahaca, which is the brainchild of Thomasina Miers, who I guess you could say is the UK's version of Rick Bayless with her passion for and knowledge of Mexican food from years spent travelling in the country. Wahaca celebrates Mexican street food in a casual (but uber-trendy!) ambiance and prides itself on using local, seasonal ingredients and free-range, grass-fed meat and poultry. The first Wahaca location opened in Covent Garden in 2007 (this is the location which I visited both times), and there are now additional branches in Canary Wharf, Soho, White City and Stratford as well as a food truck! I loved Wahaca so much when we tried it last summer that I absolutely knew that I had to go back during this trip, even if it meant solo dining.
Hanging out by the bar awaiting my table (no reservations taken, but the wait was only five minutes since I went early), I decided to order one of Wahaca's tamarind margaritas. It was potent and tangy...just the way I like it! Particularly interesting was the rim of brown sugar and chili powder, which gave a little kick to the drink. Yum!
Dining at Wahaca means that you order several dishes since they are all small plates, which are then brought out to you in random order as they are ready, just like in a Mexican market. As soon as I was seated, my friendly server immediately brought out a duo of salsas - a spicy chipotle one and a milder, fruity one with just a hint of habanero. I of course couldn't resist ordering some guacamole and tortilla chips. Served in a mock molcajete with a tin basket for the chips, the guacamole was fresh and tasty.
Then came the incredible summer vegetable tacos. THE TACOS. There are no words to describe how good these were. Three small corn tortillas topped with lightly sauteed courgettes, tomatoes, spinach and corn topped with fresh tarragon, mint, feta and a chipotle salsa = AMAZING! I almost cried. Seriously. They were THAT good, and they were in London! I was puzzled but not complaining.
I also had some delicious black bean tostadas, with consisted of two fried corn tortillas topped with refried black beans, avocado salsa, crema, crumbled Lanchashire cheese (an English cheese which is not unlike Mexican cotija) and fresh tomato salsa. These were fresh, light and almost as delectable as the tacos.
I decided to get a side of the esquites as well, which was a small dish of corn sauteed in a broth with chili, crema and crumbly cheese and served with a wedge of lime. It was a bit watery for my taste but not bad. I recalled from my previous visit that the frijoles, twice-cooked, creamy black beans topped with crumbly cheese and crema, were a much better option.
I washed the esquites down with yet another margarita, a passion fruit one this time. I'm a huge fan of passion fruit and this cocktail didn't disappoint, though I would say that I preferred the tamarind one. Wahaca apparently only uses double-distilled, 100% blue agave tequila, the best type of tequila that you can get. And all cocktails are served in glasses made with hand-blown, recycled glass. What's not to love?
After all of this, I was stuffed and had no room for dessert, though I spotted several sweet endings on the menu that sounded great. Among them - churros y chocolate, mango sorbet and a Mexican cheesecake topped with passion fruit sauce. I was also curious about the chili chocolate tequila toddy as a last drink for the road, but decided that it would have to be for next time.
By the time I left Wahaca, the line was out of control. But with such amazing food, fun ambiance and cheery service, I can certainly understand why Londoners don't mind queueing up. I'm not sure if they know that the tacos at Wahaca can beat those in Texas, California and even Mexico - but you do if you've just read this, so be sure to check it out during your next trip to London! If you become a Wahaca fan like me, you might also want to pick up Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple, available in my Amazon store! A portion of the sales from the cookbook as well as the "street food specials" on the Wahaca menu go to support Ednica, a Mexico City-based NGO that supports market vendors and their families through education and health projects.
Wahaca (Covent Garden location)
66 Chandos Place
London WC2N 4HG
Tel: +44 (0)207 240 1883
Open Monday-Saturday 12-11pm and Sunday 12-10:30pm