Everybody loves Mexican food! And since Cape Town is a lamentably long way from the Americas, enchiladas and empanadas have taken off in the Mother City via a wide range of casual, colourful, warm and wonderful cantinas.These are the places to go in search of the best of Mex. But if you know something, or somewhere, we have overlooked, please let us know in the comments below.
1. El Burro
Image Credit: Ellerman
This trendy, loud and lively first-floor Mexican restaurant is much acclaimed for its décor and service, as well as its great food. At street level there’s the popular Cabrito bar, serving bar meals, but the best (and quietest) place in the restaurant upstairs is on the deep balcony overlooking all the action on Somerset Road… urban decadence at its best. The restaurant is always busy, so book well in advance to avoid disappointment. And, incidentally, if you crave morning-after Mexican with live music laid on, El Burro has a mobile food van at The House of Machines in Shortmarket Street for brunch between 9am and 3pm every Sunday.
Where Green Point
The food Whether or not it is authentic Mexican food, as the owners claim, is debatable, but fans consider it the healthiest Mexican food around – a long way from cheesier, greasier Tex-Mex options in town. Veg lovers will be well satisfied.
You must try The linefish tacos (R74) – once eaten, never forgotten, say the aficionados. The butternut and goat’s cheese quesadilla (R70) is a vegetarian feast. And then there’s the chicken mole poblano (R80) – deservedly the national dish of Mexico with its delicious sauce flavoured with chocolate, nuts, herbs and spices and served with green rice. Tequila is the essential complement, and the choice is enormous, priced from R18 to R100 a shot. The list of craft beers is tempting, too.
Contact 021 433 2364
Where to find it 81 Main Road, Greenpoint, Cape Town
2. San Julian
The San Julian family moved to South Africa from Mexico five years ago and, judging by the staff and clientele, have created a home-from-home for Cape Town’s Mexican community. While the food is serious about recreating the flavours of home, the atmosphere is relaxed, casual and friendly.
Where Green Point
The food The menu is small and uncomplicated, and the food has the unmistakable freshness and originality of home cooking. You can watch the chef making the tortillas, while the helpful staff are happy to tell you more about family recipes on offer.
You must try a glass of agua de horchata, a traditional drink made with rice, milk, cinnamon and nuts (R20), and a shot of aged tequila made for sipping, not swallowing (R60 to R105 a shot). The Prawn Quesadillas are pricey (R105) but wonderful, flavoured with chilli and garlic and topped with chipotle mayo. For dessert, there is just one thing on the menu and you can see why: the Platano Tatemado is a hot cake topped with roasted bananas, brandy caramel and vanilla ice cream (R45).
Contact 021 419 4233
Where to find it 3 Rose Street, Green Point, Cape Town
3. Fat Cactus
A firm favourite among locals, who frequent it in noisy groups, secure in the knowledge that everyone who dines here loves a party. Regulars revel in the choice of 10 kinds of tequila, a choice of five margaritas and the extensive beer, and trust the simple menu to be consistently satisfying.
Where Take your pick of Mowbray, Gardens, Woodstock.
The food Unashamedly Tex-Mex, loved for its extra spice and generous portions.
You must try the acclaimed Amazeballs – delicious chorizo risotto balls (R40) – and the robust trio of burgettes (cheese, mushroom and BBQ) known as Three Amigos (R62).
Contact 021 685 1920, email@example.com
Where to find it 47 Durban Road, Mowbray, Cape Town
Situated in an attractive cottage in buzzy 2nd Avenue, Harfield, Zapata inspires loyalty and is justifiably always full. The pretty courtyard is the perfect place to share a jug of margaritas with a group of friends, and the food is interesting and varied enough to keep you coming back for more.
Where Harfield Village
The food All the favourites are here, well put together and flavoured to die for.
You must try The frozen margaritas (R120 for a litre jug) are legendary (and pack quite a punch) and the chilli poppers are widely considered the best in town – which is saying something. (It could be the delicious chilli mayo they are served with?) If you want to try everything, go for the Zapata Remembrance Platter for two, including tortilla rolls, baked cheese nachos, spicy meatballs, chilli poppers, and a lot more (R230).
Contact 021 671 2393, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 2nd Avenue, Harfield Village
A well-known and much-loved Mexican restaurant in Observatory with a warm, relaxed vibe and a very mixed clientele.
The food There are so many options on this Tex-Mex menu that you simply have to return for more. Main courses are offered in standard and smaller “Mexican” portion sizes at a price difference of around R10 a dish.
You must try the best nachos in town draped in your choice of mild, chilli or “macho” toppings and served in extremely generous portions (small, R68; large, R80). Don’t miss the flautas: delicious deep-fried flour tortillas filled with salsa, cheese and one of many vegetarian or meat fillings (R85). If you can, finish off with the Mexican chocolate cake (R40) – a rich chocolate fruitcake to die for.
Contact 021 447 4854, email@example.com
Where to find it 127 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Cape Town
6. Mexican on Long
What is it about Mexican restaurants and parties? If it’s the tequilas and margaritas, look no further than this lively location overlooking hyperactive Long Street, with its large bar, long list of tequilas and relatively short food menu. The decor is a treat and the landmark balcony rocks, night and day.
The food Pedantic foodies should probably pass by – if they’re on Long Street at all – but the food is well made, well presented and satisfyingly substantial, and the short menu won’t distract you from the real business of having fun.
You must try The fish tacos (R75) are excellent and the bowls of black bean rice topped with duck, beef or vegetables (R85) are a tasty alternative to the taco and tortilla dishes. Splash out on the moreish spicy prawns (R145) if you are feeling reckless. Desserts are an afterthought on Mexican menus, but who can resist rice pudding with a Central American twist (R35)?
Contact 021 426 0770
Where to find it 158 Long Street, Cape Town
We also enjoy eating at these casual cantinas
A laid-back restaurant with a great outdoor area for relaxed meals with all the rich flavours you expect from Mexico.
The food Fabulously flavoursome and filling.
You must try The restaurant’s signature Mexican chilli tequila with a dish of the memorable, moreish nachos. If you get there before 3pm with a huge appetite, you can’t do better than the Breakfast Quesadillas filled with cheese, jalapeno chillies, scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms and served with fries (R36) … but you may need a siesta afterwards.
Contact 021 919 1556, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 86 Edward Street, Tygervalley, Bellville
Tacoways Mexican Café
An unassuming but much-loved takeaway café with a few tables for quick meals on the spot and a rare children’s menu, so you can introduce the kids to tacos and tortillas, spicy mince and salsa.
The food Delicious, freshly made meals that threaten to become addictive.
You must try the crispy chicken wings served with chipotle mayo (R29 or R69) and the yummy burritos: soft tortillas with irresistible fillings, such black bean and chocolate and pulled pork (R55 each).
Contact 021 975 5606, email@example.com
Where to find it Corner of Wellington Road and Oxford Street, Durbanville, Cape Town