The first encounter I had with El Loco was quite pleasantly surprising. Working in an open plan office dedicated to a small group of fantastic do-gooders dedicated to saving the planet, alongside the people and animals in it, I turned around to see two friends bearing gifts. The first, a 6 pack of Coronas and the second, a large handful of invitations to their opening night celebrations. As I am in advertising, it is amazing to see how many tricky, obscure and complicated plans are hatched to lure people in to this product and that restaurant, when sometimes all it takes is a free beer and a welcoming smile inviting you to drop by and join in the fun. So in my opinion, this was El Loco’s first step in the right direction.
I had heard a little about the pending opening on this new self proclaimed “Mexican Cantina”, the trendy new addition to Merivale’s ever-growing list of establishments designed for the who’s-who to wine and dine themselves silly and go home stuffed. Located at the back of the old, now new-old, Excelsior Hotel, I knew this project would be sensitive due to the long-standing nature of the existing establishment and loyal following of local fans. In the following days it was impressive to see Mr Hemmes himself pitching in and getting his hands dirty, painting, lugging planks of wood around, so much so that I would go so far as to take bets this may be a little love project from the Merivale maestro.
So anyway, obviously the office didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to go see what all the fuss was about, so that very Friday night, we all went there to farewell a short-term but invaluable member of the team. Let’s just say, with all the fun (and margaritas) the food was the last thing on my mind. Living in Redfern and working in Surry Hills, it was a wonder it took so long to return, but finally I did, to re-sample the menu and really take notice of what was going on around me.
I arranged a catch-up with a close friend, who arrived before me and took a seat outside on one of the red your-grandma-wants-her-curtains-back lino-clothed tables. After a little drama with the ATM (it seems NAB likes to snooze on Sundays too) I finally settled in with a Pink Cuco ($13.50), a frozen pink grapefruit margarita served in a plastic cup that suggested it was both compostable and biodegradable. Score!
We also ordered some Corn Chips with Guacamole and Salsa ($5), following suit from the table next to us who appeared to have popped inside, grabbed a number and have food magically appear seconds later. Sure enough, ours did too, and we snacked on crunchy corn chips with fresh guacamole and spicy(ish) salsa with green (what I have come to call) “special sauce”. I am aware this sauce often goes missing from establishments when handed out willy-nilly, but I detest it being served to me in a small plastic container with a grunt, and only on request. So when I sat down at the table and already waiting for me was a bucket (literally) of cutlery, a decent pile of serviettes and a normal we-trust-you-won’t-steal-our-sauce sized bottle, I breathed a sigh of content.
Next was the “Queso de Soya” – chilli marinated tofu, pico de gallo ($5 each). I vaguely remember consuming one or two of these the first time I came to El Loco, but as the most memorable part was trying to have an intelligent conversation with my boss while wiping lime juice from a good way down my arms, I can’t say it was the best taco I have ever had. This time was different, and both kitten sized tacos served in individual recycled-looking (although unconfirmed) cardboard boats, were quite delicious. Tofu would not be the first thing I would think to put in a taco, but when in Mexico right? Wait, in Mexico they don’t do this either… Must be the brainchild of Merivale man-of-the moment Dan Hong.
Peppered with herbs and spices and smothered in sauce, the El Loco menu seems to boast a little something for everyone. At $13.50 for a frozen margarita and a smallish vegetarian selection, I can’t see myself here every week for dinner, but for a catch-up with friends or a quick Pink Cuco after work definitely sounds doable. And I still have to try the “El Loco Salad” – Healthy salad consisting of chilli spiced tofu, shaved fennel and radish, cabbage, coriander, spring onions, avocado, queso fresca (cheese), tortilla chips and El Loco dressing ($12). Be back soon!
64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, NSW, 2010
(02) 9211 4945