How did the ancient Mexican corn wrap become this year’s hottest food trend? Eleanor Marriott finds out
They’ve been popular in Mexico for so long that the Aztecs were probably enjoying them, but this year corn tacos are the biggest food trend in the US and Europe too. Whether yellow or blue; mild or spicy; made with classic Mexican ingredients or a fusion of different flavours (sushi taco, anyone?), these small but substantial maize snacks are everywhere.
It started with taco street food trucks like Guerilla Tacos in LA and El Rey Del Taco in New York. These morphed into pop-up restaurants like Breddos Tacos in London and events like Soho House Barcelona’s Taco Tuesdays. Now tacos are a feature at many established restaurants – including the Electric Diner, where head chef David Fogelman recently added a sweet potato, corn and guacamole taco to the all-day menu.
“The Mexican trend has been in the background in London for the last few years now but has really become prominent with the opening of Tacos El Pastór by Sam and Eddie Hart,” says Soho House & Co’s UK director Tom Collins. “Tacos are always packed with flavour and David has come up with a great vegetarian recipe, which visitors to the Diner can enjoy with a margarita.”
For the Hart brothers – who won a Michelin star at Barrafina, their previous London restaurant – tacos have long been a passion. The taqueria idea came up when Sam lived in Mexico City, where he ran the El Colmillo nightclub with Crispin Somerville, who became their El Pastór partner. “The conversation went on for a decade. We wanted to be authentic aficionados of Mexican food,” says Crispin.
At their relaxed taqueria in Borough Market, the flavourful corn tacos are made in-house daily, the traditional Mexican way (which involves soaking the corn in a very mild lime solution for 12 hours to remove the husk) and toppings range from guajilla-rubbed shortrib to mushroom with Oaxaca cheese. It’s not surprising that many guests are from Latin America.
Newcomers like El Pastor have helped to evolve the trend even in areas that have always known how to do great tacos. Ocho, the rooftop taqueria at the Soho Beach House in Miami, has recently added on-trend fillings like crispy cauliflower to its popular options like tender, tasty pulled pork, and fish tacos with crunchy red cabbage.
“For a good taco the tortilla must be fresh and soft, either griddled or steamed,” says Sergio Sigala, head chef at Soho Beach House. “Whatever the protein is – usually griddled, spit-roast or braised meats – it needs to have plenty of flavour.”
Toppings should have a complementary taste and texture: coriander for chargrilled fish; or caramelised pineapple on marinated pork. “At Ocho tacos come very simply adorned with red cabbage, lettuce, diced onions and chopped cilantro, with lime wedges, pickled or grilled jalapeños, radishes, and a choice of salsas,” says Chef Sergio. The team have also introduced a Taco Board to let diners play cocinero and design their own.
The beauty of a taqueria is its flexibility – you can enjoy a complete meal by ordering add-ons like tostadas, guacamole and quesadillas; go casually for lunch; or enjoy a few tacos and tequilas with friends after work. (Ocho offers a discounted happy hour from 4-8pm every Friday to encourage this.)
With openings in cities around the world, taquerias are becoming as as ubiquitous as tapas bars, offering an alternative small plate dining experience. If one appears near you, grab some friends and head there now while the queues are still relatively short, and the concept still as fresh as their hand-made tortillas.