Taco Wars: Episode 1

A long time ago, in a merchant yard far, far away… Turmoil has engulfed London. The question of who has the best taco in London is in dispute. Hoping to resolve the matter with a vote, Tweat Up has put on a taco tasting event. While foodies on Twitter endlessly debate which taco deserves the top spot, it is up to Tweat Up, the guardians of food and boozy good times in London, to settle the conflict…

Ok, it wasn’t that far away. It was in Dalston. And it was two weeks ago. And though you think tacos may not be such a hotly sought-out food in London, the guys at Tweat Up decided this was something that needed to be decided. London needed to know where it could get the best taco, and they needed to know it now. Some people seemed more ready for the Tex-mex showdown than others.

I was quite excited for Taco Wars myself – it would be the first Tweat Up since the Chilli Stand Off in November (except for a “Chile Stand Off” they did with Chilean wines at the Rotary Room Bar). The sun showed up, bringing blue skies with it; the event was sold out; there was the promise of beer, tacos, and secret mezcal machines; everything was looking up… except that I fell sick with a mystery virus about two days beforehand. But the promise of tacos and good times set my resolve, and I stubbornly took myself, fatigue and wobbly tummy and all, down to the Merchant Yard in Dalston.

I wish I could provide as detailed a blog as I did for the last Tweat Up, lovingly going on about the variety of delicious tacos on offer, but I only managed four before I had to give up and just drink water the rest of the day.

The first taco I went for was from these friendly guys at Benito’s Hat. They looked so festive with their Mexican flags, free mini-margaritas, and cooler of iced Jarritos.

Their “tacos de suadero” were simple and delicious — milk-marinated beef belly laid out on homemade corn tortillas, topped with onions, cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and “salsa de aguacate”. They weren’t trying to turn any backflips with their tacos, and unfortunately I think they got overshadowed by some of the other competitors going all-out with their offerings. But I enjoyed the simplicity and uncomplicated, fresh flavours — it reminded me of the tacos I had this past summer from little tacquerias in Texas.

Simplicity is not always a good thing, though. I found my taco from Buen Provecho — banana-leaf wrapped, anchiote-marinated pork pibil with pickled onions and habañero salsa — to a be a bit uninspiring. The pork was tasty and tender, but I personally enjoy some “cooling” accompaniments on my tacos such as guacamole or queso fresco. The only accompaniments with this one were said to be spicy, so I had to avoid them.

The next two tacos I tried were ones that went all-out, piling as much flavour into the little tortillas as they possibly could.

L. A. Sueño’s taco, named “You Fowl Hipster Swine”, took its inspiration from “the flavours of traditional Mexican cooking and blending them with some Los Angeles glitz and East London soul”. I was a bit dismayed at first to see that they were using duck hearts again (I didn’t really like the duck heart tacos they had at December’s FEAST), but my misgivings were unwarranted. The tough, whole duck hearts from December were gone, replaced by ones chopped up and braised with pork in a mole sauce. This was topped with pickled blueberry salsa, a “carrot nest”, and queso fresco, all resting on a smoked duck fat corn tortilla. The end result was a complex and slightly sweet taco – very enjoyable indeed.

The last taco I managed was my favourite, and I’m glad I ended my (albeit shortened) taco journey on a high note.

 Kimchinary’s taco was a burst of all the right flavours. I may be a bit biased because I have always loved Korean food, but to me this taco was a clear winner. Slow-braised bulgogi ox cheek, soju and gochujang battered cod cheek, Korean pickle tartar, kimchi, and toasted seaweed were all packed into one tiny taco. It was overflowing, both literally and in the sense that the flavours jumped right out of the tortilla, all fighting to be noticed. It was wonderful and ambitious, and if Kimchinary ever decides to make it again, I will be in line buying 4 for my greedy self.

Wilkes managed to grab a picture of me enjoying my taco-ed bliss.

I probably should have followed someone around at least taking photos of all the tacos, but I was distracted by other things. Namely, the mariachi band, who wandered around playing “Happy Birthday” to random people all day along with a rotating playlist of mariachi classics such as La Cucaracha and La Bamba.

There was also the “tape measure dude”. I really don’t know what else to call him. All I know is that he showed up with a tensile tape measure and challenged people to feed it out as much as they could without the tension snapping and collapsing. It made for very entertaining viewing, and I think the winner managed a whopping 5 metres and then some.

Par for the course for a Tweat Up, there were tons of people eating…

…and tweeting…

…and a few other people bringing out the big guns for their food photography.

Some poor souls there wished they were joining in with the eating. Witness the haunted look of a dog who is surrounded by delicious-smelling “people food” he knows he will not be getting (it was the same look on my face after I had to stop eating my tacos):

How could you say no to these faces, though?

Rotary Bar kept the party atmosphere afloat all day on their £10 “festival-sized” cocktails and various beers on offer, as well as the mystery mezcal machine that had been alluded to on Twitter. I don’t know what everyone expected to happen, but what did happen was this: a mini cement mixer appeared, followed by a lot of mezcal (I think maybe 10 bottles went in), a lot of ice, a lot of sneaky taste testing with a straw, and a lot of mugging for the camera.

It was an instant hit with the gathered crowd – free booze always is. I was amazed that such a haphazard method of mixing produced such a tasty cocktail, and it was just barely this side of “knock-you-flat-on-your-ass” strong.

At the end of the day, after the tacos were long gone and the mezcal machine was drained dry, when the votes were cast and the dust settled, Luardos emerged victorious, closely followed by Breddo’s.

It felt like a long day, but it was only 6 pm. Some people were defeated with the task of eating 10 tacos and were ready to head home…

…while others were clearly just getting the party started now that business of voting was over.

All in all it was a great day out, with the only sunshine London would see for a good few weeks, and a wonderful array of food, booze, music, and games to keep everyone entertained. If you’re missing these events, you really are missing out.

Tweat Up is back for a few more weekends this summer, doing it bigger and better than ever. Thanks to all the guys who are volunteering and helping put on these events.

If you fancy coming along to a Tweat Up, be sure and check out their website to keep up to date on future happenings. To see more pictures from Taco Wars, take a look at my Flickr set here.

6 Comments

  1. Yum! You make it seem so tasty I can hardly wait to taste all of the offerings.

  2. Great to meet you and so pleased you had a good day. Hopefully see you in the restaurants soon.

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