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Monday, August 22, 2011

El Loco, Surry Hills

Food should always be fun, which probably explains why I've taken such a shining to El Loco of late. There's nothing fancy, with Mexican-style street food served in takeaway trays and margaritas dispensed in plastic cups, but that's half the appeal - chowing down on messy deliciousness as you perch on a metal stool at a table covered in plastic prints.

El Loco Mexican cantina y barra

El Loco sits at the back of the Excelsior Hotel, a splash of bright blue bordered by a herb garden and assorted cacti. Milk crate stools topped with colourful padded cushions are a quirky touch.

Milk crate stools

The cantina

You can order and eat from within the main bar area, but the cantina offers the most buzz, the bare floors livened with a rainbow of stools, spray-painted walls and an eclectic assortment of music.

La Cerveza del Pacifico Clara $8

There are 26 different tequilas available from the tequila shack, but we've stuck to the Mexican beers so far. Choose from Corona, Pacifico Clara and Dos Equis (each $8) or cans of Tecate for $6. Margaritas (classic and jalapeno) come in plastic cups rimmed with salt ($13.50).

El Loco menu

Head chef and Merivale golden child Dan Hong travelled to Mexico and LA with Justin Hemmes earlier this year, undertaking some heavy edible research from street stalls and taco trucks before heading back to Sydney. The resulting El Loco menu is surprisingly thorough, offering a broad selection of proteins. Even vegetarians have been catered for, with queso de soya tofu tacos on the board.

Prepping tacos in the kitchen

Corn chips with guacamole and salsa

I've visited El Loco several times now, and the corn chips have become a mandatory order. They always arrive quickly, the thick corn chips perfect for dipping into the rich guacamole and a salsa that is vibrant with chilli and herbs.

'Al Pastor' pork 'torta' sandwich $10

The Al Pastor pork torta sandwich is impossible to eat gracefully. Jammed between two halves of a soft sesame seed bun are chunky slices of marinated pork -- grilled on a spit -- with shredded cabbage, coriander, spring onion and a scoop of pico de gallo salsa. A generous dollop of mayonnaise on top will squelch its way everywhere.

Fish 'torta' sandwich $10

One of my surprise favourites has been the fish 'torta' sandwich, the grilled fish fillets sweet and slightly smoky, dressed with the cabbage, coriander and stripes of creamy mayonnaise.

El hot dog $9

It's hard to go past the El hot dog though, a monster of a grilled pork frankfurt cloaked in a cloud of finely grated queso fresca cheese. The fresh cheese is amazing -- fairy-like strings that melt at first contact on the tongue, draped over frankfurt, spicy jalapenos, pico de gallo salsa and, oh yes, more lashings of mayonnaise.

'El Loco salad' $12

The menu ambitiously describes the El Loco salad as a "healthy salad", my kinda nutritionist when we're talking about a dish that includes shards of deep-fried tortilla chips and a snowstorm of queso fresca fresh cheese. Cubes of deep-fried tofu are smothered in chilli sauce and tumbled with shaved fennel, wafer-thin slices of radish, cabbage, coriander, spring onion and avocado.

Skull salt and pepper shakers

View into the open kitchen

Pollo chicken taco with sweet corn salsa $5

The $5 tacos offer a tasty little snack -- order two and share the corn chips and you'll usually be right for lunch or dinner. Picking up and eating these soft tacos requires some hand-eye coordination.

Camaron prawn taco with salsa verde and pico de gallo $5

The pollo chicken taco is a mild mouthful of seared chicken, livened with a sweet corn salsa. The Camaron prawn taco revealed a surprise bed of plump prawns, smoky and caramelised from the grill.

Five spice pork belly taco $5

Blackboard specials change daily, ranging from one-off taco fillings to quesadillas. On my last visit the five spice pork belly taco packed a welcomed chilli hit, dusted with a sesame and habanero salt mix and refreshed by sprigs of Vietnamese basil. The roast pork belly came with layers of pork crackling too.

Secret taco $5

Every day a secret taco is available, the components of which are rarely revealed by staff until it is delivered to your table. The first time I ordered the secret taco, they delivered it and still wouldn't tell me what was in it, asking me to eat it first and guess.

It was lambs tongue, wondrously tender with its trademark slight resistance. On top was a pile of cabbage and pico de gallo salsa, but the trail of chicharrón deep-fried pork crackling was another highlight.

Secret taco $5

The second secret taco I ordered revealed itself to be chicken liver, this time dressed with a trail of popcorn tempura, nubbins of sweet corn dipped in batter and deep-fried. Popcorn tempura should be a snack on its own. I could have eaten a bowlful.

The pass at El Loco

Churros $5

Dessert changes regularly too. We've tried the churros which were delivered piping hot from the fryer, the crunchy fluffy donuts made even more desireable after a dip in the pot of thick and bittersweet chocolate sauce.

Softgel 112 soft serve ice cream maker

One of the latest additions to the kitchen has been a Softgel 112 soft serve ice cream maker.

Soft serve ice cream with roasted macadamia nut crumble, homemade honeycomb and chocolate fudge sauce

The first time we had the soft serve ice cream it came out with an orgy of roasted macadamia nut crumble, slabs of homemade honeycomb and drowned in a river of chocolate fudge sauce.

Cinnamon bun soft serve ice cream

The latest flavour (last week) is cinnamon bun soft serve - it tastes like cinnamon and butter and sugar. It's the stuff kids dreams are made of, but veers toward incredibly sweet by the time you're halfway through.

And oh, who's that at the pass?

Dan Hong says hola

View Larger Map
El Loco on Urbanspoon

El Loco at The Excelsior Hotel
64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 4945

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 12pm until late
Wednesday 12pm-1am
Thursday to Saturday 12pm – 3am
Sunday 12pm -10pm
No bookings

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Mexican - Flying Fajita Sisters, Glebe
25 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/22/2011 12:27:00 am


  • At 8/22/2011 12:30 am, Blogger thehungryduck said…

    Your photos are amazing! I didnt realise they served churras, now I want to go back and try them :)

  • At 8/22/2011 1:18 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Yum! Love the sound of the secret tacos, I have to admit haven't been back since my first visit but suddenly I hear that soft serve machine calling my name...

  • At 8/22/2011 1:40 am, Blogger jack said…

    Everything looks so tasty - especially the corn chips with that guacamole. And the queso fresco looks like cheese heaven. I really need to get around to trying this place out! Suddenly I feel so hungry after looking at the mouthwatering photos :)

  • At 8/22/2011 3:09 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    What a cheery, fun looking place. Just looking at your colourful photographs I feel like I am there... Total love for churros as well. I can always remember first tasting them in Spain - amazing.

  • At 8/22/2011 7:29 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I really like the look of the food and the prices here, but am put off by the garish decor! LOL

  • At 8/22/2011 9:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Healthy salad? LOL! The secret tacos are an interesting concept, I'd love to see it in more restaurants.

  • At 8/22/2011 9:33 am, Anonymous Dumpling Girl said…

    Wow they serve dessert now, all the more reason to return soon. The cinnamon bun soft serve sounds delish.

  • At 8/22/2011 10:15 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    <3 the milk crate stools. And pimped up soft serve!

  • At 8/22/2011 10:16 am, Blogger spicyicecream said…

    Seriously can't believe I haven't made it down to El Loco yet. Must change that soon!

  • At 8/22/2011 10:48 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    CINNAMON BUN SOFT SERVE?!?! dude i'm so there!

  • At 8/22/2011 11:03 am, Anonymous sara (Belly Rumbles) said…

    I am still yet to pay El Loco a visit. Looking at your photos, I think it is going to have to be a visit with a few as everything looks sooooo good!! Tempura popcorn on a taco, brilliant!

  • At 8/22/2011 11:14 am, Anonymous Nic@diningwithastud said…

    Don Hong is a freakin genius! This place looks so fun and it really is like big kids food. Love the sound of everything and cant wait to try it out :)

  • At 8/22/2011 11:22 am, Anonymous mary@ohmykitchenaid said…

    The El hot dog + ALL THE PURE GOODNES that is cheese! Wow! I definitely need to visit this place!

  • At 8/22/2011 11:33 am, Anonymous Pete said…

    I'll definitely be checking this out. I've been disappointed with Mexican food in Sydney to date (and Indian, but that's another story) and I'm having withdrawal cravings having just spent some time in The Mission district in San Francisco. A good taco is pretty much the perfect street food.

  • At 8/22/2011 12:09 pm, Blogger Michelle Chin said…

    The place looks quirky. :)

  • At 8/22/2011 8:32 pm, Blogger .. said…

    Oh my goodness, now that is a REAL burger!

  • At 8/22/2011 9:23 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Knowing how much I loved the Ben & Jerry's Cinnamon Bun in America, I reckon that soft serve would be the best way to cap off that healthy salad ;)

  • At 8/22/2011 9:53 pm, Blogger KayB said…

    i scored a 'tripe' secret taco a month back and it was amazing! Plus, those jalapeno margaritas are DANGEROUS! but super tasty

  • At 8/22/2011 11:36 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    oh wow it's so colourful and yummy looking!

  • At 8/23/2011 1:25 am, Anonymous Kyle said…

    I like the simplicity and the idea of the cantina, it looks so relaxing! Pork and fish 'torta' sandwiches look sinfully delicious. El Hotdog? Oh kill me now!

  • At 8/23/2011 12:20 pm, Blogger Brenda said…

    OMG I wanna go so bad now!
    Ending anything with Churros is always a win win :)

  • At 8/24/2011 1:33 am, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    I still haven't been here and now I really want to go so badly! I love how there's a secret taco flavour and the desserts and soft serve flavours change frequently. Good mexican food is one of the things I've missed since my holiday in the States, I think a visit here will soon rectify that...

  • At 8/24/2011 10:44 am, Blogger Mel said…

    Seeing your photos is making me want to rush into town and indulge in more of these yummy tacos. YUM!

  • At 8/24/2011 8:18 pm, Anonymous divemummy said…

    not usually a fan of Mexican but this looks so yummy and authentic - and cheap!

  • At 9/10/2012 12:45 pm, Anonymous cheeky monkey said…

    Wow! I have got to try this place. The tacos look so yum! FRiday, here I come! Haha! I'm hoping I can beat the crowds.


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