With carnitas and fish tacos this good, no wonder the place is bumping every night. Tequila flows with a fierce passion at Taco Bar, but the real gems come from chef-owner Kin Hong’s kitchen, not the bottle.
Back in 2012, Taco Bar was a secret eatery notorious for kickass tacos and plenty of tequila on the cheap – as long as you could find the hutong speakeasy and managed to secure a reservation, of course. It was the talk of the town until it unexpectedly disappeared. The much larger reincarnation, located next to Home Plate in Sanlitun, is all grown up and professional, but hasn’t lost the quirky roots that made us love it in the first place. There’s no longer that sense of being in on the secret – this place is huge and in a central location – but the goofy party atmosphere remains.
Chances are you’ll be invited to Taco Bar for a birthday gathering soon. Or a friend’s farewell party. Or, well, any kind of shindig. This is a party spot with an emphasis on having a good time. Even if you’re in a group of two, it’s difficult not to let the good times roll (and the margarita pitchers pour). It’s just really fun. There’s a space geared up for large groups and a busy bar area that leads to a more relaxed row of long tables and a semi-private room at the back. A house party-style indie playlist just barely overpowers the roar of people getting messy on tacos and hooch. It’s already the place to be.
Food is sharable comfort grub that works best while joking around with your amigos. The popular cheese dip (40RMB), dotted with chorizo and named after the owner’s dog, Rocky, is a good place to start. Most tables are also laden with nachos dipped in a mild salsa (20RMB), or a lip-smacking corn salsa under a blanket of melted cheese and chilli (25RMB). There’s the requisite guacamole (35RMB) as well, but the smash-up of coriander, tomatoes and plenty of avocado is a rare bland miss.
The bulk of Taco Bar’s menu is taken up with, well, tacos. Proprietor Kin Hong perfected his technique while in Mexico learning how to make the real deal. While between restaurants, he also created the menu at Great Leap Brewing’s Sanlitun taproom.
The tacos look small but are deceptively substantial. Order a trio of one filling or pick from one of two combos of three (all 45RMB). No matter what you order, it’s all pretty damn good. Fillings include fork-tender beef tongue, battered fish and mushroom. Everything’s folded up in a soft-shell tortilla so that the flavours all sing. You’ll be going to town on these until you drop.
Drinks are basic but don’t pull any punches. The iconic tipple is the Ghetto Michelada (20RMB), which is a tall boy (large can) of Pabst Blue Ribbon with chilli-lime salt dusted on the rim. Yes, really. It may seem hipster and ridiculous, but it works so damn well. Other cocktails are to the point – the tequila mixed with ginger beer (40RMB) is mighty refreshing, and gin with cucumber syrup and tonic (40RMB) washes the palate clear. And, of course, there’s also boatloads of tequila (from 25RMB). Those shots won’t do themselves.
But don’t stuff your face on tacos completely, the small menu of desserts is also worth a look. The canelitas (25RMB), deep-fried strips of funnel cake coated in sugar, are irresistible – top-shelf carnival food.
The late night menu (after 10pm) – made up of a few different choices that make for excellent drunk food – and the Sunday brunch (11.30am-2pm), heavy on starches and cheese, will both keep you coming back for more again and again. Not that you’ll need a reason to.
NOTE: Reservations highly recommended. Bookings are only accepted on the day, from 11am Sat-Sun and 4pm Tue-Fri.