El Capo means "the boss", and there's no question about who's in charge here. From the bad ass murals on the wall, to the pallet-load of dollar bills that doubles as a stool, El Capo feels like a seedy drug den come-to-life comic book-style.
The pine tables are set with buckets of help-yourself cutlery and a box of domino tiles. The chairs are a colourful mix of wooden and metal chairs. We're here for lunch, and the restaurant is noticeably quiet, as we spot only three other patrons on a sunny Thursday.
Mural inside El Capo
Stools made from American dollar bills
Corn bread with house made butter $7
Patrons may not have to hand over their wallets, but they do have to surrender their arteries, we realise, as the South American street food menu plays into heavier oilier territory with more influence from Colombia than Mexico.
Cornbread is unlike the cakey version of its Southern cousin, arriving as egg-sized individual balls that have been deep-fried. The exterior shell is harder to crack apart that we first expect, revealing a dense cumin-studded bread that we spread generously with the house-made cumin butter supplied.
Patacon pisao plantain chips $7
A huge bowl of plantain chips should come with a mandatory order of beer. These deep-fried discs of plantain banana are predictably starchy, with a pleasant hint of sweetness. Their dryness is easily relieved by a dip in the pot of chili sauce, but a swig of beer would probably have been better. Between the three of us, we struggle to get through half the serving.
Colombian empanadas $7
Colombian empanadas are another victory for crunch, the filling of beef and potato encased in a thin shell of cornmeal pastry. The pastry is super crisp, but we find these a little heavy-going, even with a spoonful of refreshing salsa.
Rice 'n' beans 'n' fried egg $15
There aren't many available options for our resident pescatarian, Ms Veg, but rice, beans and fried egg fits the bill. Beans and rice is a staple across South America, and a comfort dish for many. The fried egg is perfectly cooked, and pepita seeds add a lovely texture, but Ms Brazil and I both wish the beans were a little more cooked, and saucier too.
Hot tamale $15
Mexican steamed pork bun with chilli, tamarind, shallots, coriander and sesame seeds
We round out our meal with the hot tamale, two parcels of masa dough stuffed with tender shreds of pork. Here we find the steamed tamale have been unwrapped and then pan-fried so the surface is crisp. It adds another level of richness, especially with the tamarind cream sauce that is fiery with spice. We're thankful we're sharing the beans and rice dish, which provides a welcome palate cleanser between mouthfuls.
Horchata almond milk is the best antidote for soothing a chill-afflicted tongue, the nutty drink made by blending together ground almonds and water.
The lunch menu includes a couple of dishes we'd love to go back and try, like the twice-cooked duck with black oaxacan mole sauce served with steamed tortillas ($15), porky chorizo with puffed white corn and cholo ($10) and the arroz con pollo Caribbean chicken rice ($10). But then again, the dinner menu comes with tempting dessert options like three milk cake and hijo de imigrante immigrant pavlova (each $15).
When we make a motion to pay, the bill is delivered with several loose American dollar notes on the tray. It's a cute touch, but we know that somewhere, the Boss is watching. El Capo wouldn't have it any other way.
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52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9699 2518
Lunch Tuesday to Saturday from 12pm
Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Brazilian - Boteco, Surry Hills
Brazilian - Cafecito, Sydney
Brazilian - Casa Brasil, Petersham
Brazilian - Churrasco, Coogee
Chilean - La Paula, Fairfield
Mexican - El Loco, Surry Hills
Mexican - Flying Fajita Sisters, Glebe
Mexican - La Parrillada, Petersham
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8/29/2011 12:09:00 am