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5 great Mexican spots in Hong Kong
Gringos, chinos and Mexicanos break bread together at these eateries and watering holes to celebrate El Tricolor
When it comes to Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong, there is surprisingly much to say.
The city is 14,000 kilometers away from Mexico City, and, at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a lot in the way of Mexico-Hong Kong relations.
But links lie not too far beneath the surface.
“Chinese and Mexican civilizations are both beautiful amalgamations of rich millennial histories that underlie hundreds of years of colonial history,” says Andrés Peña, Mexico’s Acting Consul General to Hong Kong and Macau.
This historical backdrop provides a connection between Hong Kong and Mexico, as both continue to occupy a cultural, economic, and political middle ground. Due to its unique historical circumstances, Hong Kong straddles the divide between East and West. Likewise, Mexico fulfills a dual role as both a North American and a Latin American country.
Where, then, can Hong Kong denizens toast el tricolor? During Cinco de Mayo, the most visible cultural activity is the Mexican Film Festival, which runs from May 2-5. Films being screened include “Nora’s Will,” which last year won seven Ariel awards (the Mexican equivalent of the Oscars), including best picture.
Of course, to supplement viewings of Mexican films and to truly get into the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, there's always the option of visiting one of the Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong.
Traditional Mexican food was included last year as one of 46 cultural treasures worth preserving by UNESCO as part of its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
While Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong fall far outside any type of UNESCO designation, they are nevertheless more than serviceable to assuage a taco or a tequila hankering.
Peña rightly points out that Mexico’s rich history allows for a somewhat flexible definition of Mexican food, meaning that chili con carne can conceivably sit alongside cochinita pibil on the menu.
This means that the authenticity of Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong cannot simply be written off by glancing at the menu.
“For me, Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex are Mexican food,” Peña says. “Whether they are prepared well is another question.”
We asked Peña to name his favorite Mexican restaurant in Hong Kong, but, like a true diplomat, he replied that he supports them all. With this in mind, below are our favorite places to eat and imbibe this Cinco de Mayo.
Mr. Taco Truck
This small corner storefront is tucked away off King’s Road in Quarry Bay. It takes its aesthetic cues from, yes, a taco truck, but don't let that dissuade you since the modestly-outfitted taco trucks that prowl the streets of Los Angeles and New York City churn out tacos of legendary quality.
Mr. Taco Truck is a valiant attempt at emulation and it offers a version of the classic fish taco that conjures up the hot blasts of smoke and the staccato Spanish that pour forth from a real taco truck. For the best Mr. Taco Truck experience, order the freshly made horchata (sweet rice milk flavored with cinnamon) and the grilled fish taco, substituting a corn tortilla for the flour one.
Squeeze some lemon juice onto the open taco, fold it into a crescent (holding it horizontally so you don't dump its innards onto your plate), and take a slow bite, mingling the tender, hot fish and the cool pico de gallo, lettuce, and mayonnaise in your mouth.
Take a sip of cold horchata and savor the creamy liquid as it blankets your tongue with a dusting of cinnamon. Finally, sit back, stare at the pastel yellow walls and Mexican flag hanging on the wall and transport yourself.
Mr. Taco Truck, shop E, 22 Finnie Street, Quarry Bay +852 2590 6911 www.mrtacotruck.com
Agave Tequila Y Comida
The vast drinks menu at Agave boasts 186 brands of the highest quality tequila, all clustered together in tiny font on a single page that, presumably, gets more and more difficult to read with each successive order.
But don’t just take our word for it. Consul General Peña commented that the tequila collection here is one of the most impressive he has seen outside Mexico.
In addition to Tex-Mex fare, the menu at Agave also includes interesting elements such as molcajete de pollo y nopal, a mélange of grilled chicken breast, nopal cactus, tomato sauce, cilantro, and cheese served in a molcajete, a mortar made of volcanic rock.
The presentation alone is reason to order this dish, as it arrives at the table spitting and heaving, a combination of hot-pot and sizzling plate. With a 4 a.m. weekend closing time and a prime location on Lockhart Road however, the main draw is the extensive tequila selection.
On a weekend night, the blender mixes so many margaritas that its whirr offers a soothing white noise that undercuts the boisterous conversations from within and the sound of traffic drifting through the open windows.
Agave, 93 Lockhart Road, Wanchai +852 2866 3228 www.epicurean.com.hk
Café Iguana is a bit of a neutered Tex-Cali-Mex experience when it comes to food, offering the standard lineup of U.S. border state fare such as chili con carne and fajitas.
The burrito de puerco is a decent option, offering a well-flavored mix of shredded pork and asadero cheese wrapped in a spinach flour tortilla. And the tostada carne asada is a nice combination of textures and flavors, with a hodgepodge of sliced beef, peppers, lettuce, and cheese sitting atop a crispy tortilla.
But let’s be honest: the food’s not really the point here. Sitting atop Elements in the midst of a Disneyesque Main Street scene known as Civic Square, the food menu is a scant two pages long.
The drinks menu, however, is about four times the length and the bottles that line the wall offer a glimpse of the Café Iguana's priorities.
The best time to come is when the adjacent office blocks shed workers and those who don't make it to Central are more than happy to imbibe here.
A highlight is the chili-infused tequila. Take a shot, try to sit still as long as possible, and then reach for the Bloody Mary flavored chaser to exacerbate the burn.
Café Iguana, shop R004, Roof Level, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui +852 2196 8733 www.igors.com
El Taco Loco
Halfway up the Midlevels escalators, El Taco Loco does a good job of mimicking the grab-and-go, tin foil and plastic basket vibe that is de rigueur at many U.S. burrito joints. It churns out no-nonsense Cali-Mex fare in a casual, tightly packed space, and it offers among the best bang for the buck for eats and people watching along the escalator.
In addition, it also offers affordable margaritas which, true to form, can be ordered to go in plastic cups.
The unsung hero of Mexican restaurants is the modest tortilla chip, as a basketful usually comes at the beginning of a meal and often serves as a harbinger of things to come. If the chips are too soggy or salty or are served cold, it’s best to gather your belongings and back slowly away from the table before making a beeline for the door.
At El Taco Loco, the chips are a highlight. They are fried to perfection, lightly salted, and feature a light sprinkling of paprika, offering a great medium with which to dip into the accompanying guacamole and salsa. This bodes well for the rest of the menu, but alas: the emphasis here is on value. The tacos and burritos are uniformly serviceable, but the fish taco underperforms, as it features a large hunk of fish that seems more at home on a plate with ginger and scallions than in a taco.
The barbacoa pork is tasty, but it has a serious identity problem. The pork is lightly bathed in a sweet barbecue sauce that is more Memphis than anywhere even close to Mexico, making this, indeed, a crazy taco.
El Taco Loco, 9 Lower Staunton St., Soho +852 2522 0214 www.diningconcepts.com.hk
Café Punta del Cielo
It’s important to pace yourself during the lead-in to Cinco de Mayo since it’s easy to overdo it when faced with the enticement of tequila and burritos.
In case you overstep your bounds, fear not: we have the antidote. Café Punta del Cielo, a Mexican coffee chain with more than 100 locations in Mexico, opened one of its first international outlets in Hong Kong last year.
On the corner of Lyndhurst and Wellington streets, it serves gourmet coffee from Mexico made from beans cultivated in the mountains of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Veracruz. Mexico is the world's sixth largest producer of coffee, and Café Punta del Cielo hopes to parlay that level of production into a global coffee brand.
The best bet here is to grab a seat at the counter adjacent to the sidewalk so you can watch the pedestrians meander by. Order a café de olla and put your nose to the rim of the mug to inhale the bouquet of cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar).
Billed as “sweet and smooth with special aroma,” café de olla is a traditional Mexican beverage and is usually heated in an olla, a ceramic jar that resembles a beanpot. The version here is not prepared as such, but it retains the flavors unique to the original.
Sip slowly, feel the sly sting of the heat and the cinnamon against your lips, close your eyes, and dream of summer afternoons spent wandering the streets of Mexico City.
Café Punta del Cielo, LG/F, Shop 1, Lyndhurst Tower, 1 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central +852 2366 1977 www.puntadelcielo.com.mx