Whenever I think of Mexican food, I think of cheesy plastic cactus decor, cheesy greasy nachos, cheesy gigantic burritos and (not so cheesy) overflowing tequila. Wahaca is a new(ish) Mexican restaurant that is as far associated as possible from the typical tex-mex joints. The restaurant is modern, colourful and vibrant – and not a single cactus was in sight.
The name Wahaca is derived from Oaxaca, a region of Mexico that is home to some of the country’s greatest food markets. The menu at Wahaca is formed of three major sections – the snacky bits to go with drinks, the tapas-like street food and the proper sized mains.
Both times that I’ve been there, I’ve gone for the street food. There’s just something about small portions of a variety of food that is more appealing than platters of the same thing. We started off with pork scratchings and a guacamole dip. Sinfully crunchy bite-sized crackling (served in a mini metal bucket – cute!) and the most delicious guacomole – creamy, slightly chunky bits of avocado, onions, tomatoes…all washed down with a Corona. What a start!
Before we got our food, we were greeted by two little bowls of Wahaca’s very own ‘market salsas’. The red fiery looking one was their chipotle salsa – made from fresh, smoked and dried chillies and tomatoes. It looked fiercer than it actually was. The smokey taste was pleasant and not marred by any spicyness from the chillies. The green salsa or ‘salsa verde’ is a blend of green tomatillos, chillis and herbs. Also mild, and went really well with almost all of the dishes.
The difference with Wahaca’s food is not so much in the menu items – there’s still the guac, the burritos, the tacos, the nachos. However instead of the stodgy fare we are familiar with, the street food ‘tapas’ are full-flavoured yet refreshing. You can taste the wondrous citrus marinades, the spices and chillis in each bite. We tried the infamous pork pilbil tacos. Mini tacos filled with slow-cooked pulled pork in juices and spices like cumin. The pork was amazingly tender with the plain soft tacos soaking up its delicious juices.
Also in line was the potato and chorizo quesadilla. The drop in flavour was apparent here as the pork tacos kinda started us off with a punch. The quesadilla was just a tad on the dryer side, but it helped that the chorizo oozed enough flavour to save the dish.
The third dish is called beef saipicon tostada – two crisp tortillas piled high with a salad of tender aromatic shredded beef, spicy habenero and red onion salsa. With a squeeze of fresh lime juice, it almost served as a delicious palette cleanser with a kick. This was most evident of the fresh new twist on Mexican favourites. Absolutely delish.
Marinated chicken taquitos. Marinated chicken wrapped with corn tortillas, deep fried and topped with crema and salad. The fried tortillas were crunchy but not oily but the chicken was not as tasty as I thought it could be. However, the combination of crunchy tortilla, chicken, crema and salad made for a wonderful texture sensation.
Sides included spicy slaw, made with their own chipotle dressing which gave it a nice kick and frijoles, twice cooked rich, creamy blackbeans.
It was a fab experience and a great social meal to have with a bunch of friends, all sharing the portions of street food, tequila cocktails and nachos. To end it all off, we get a little matchbook of chilli seeds to take home. It’s a brilliant marketing idea, and if I had a green thumb and a garden, I may just try planting my own chilli, but I do live in a small london flat…and the last time I checked, my thumb’s definitely not green and ironically it’s only the cactus that survives under my care.
Wahaca (Westfield branch)
1074 Westfield Shopping Centre
London, W12 7GB