My patience wore out and despite seeing the application for the liquor license affixed to their front window, we made ourselves known and took a seat at one of the tables. I took pause and looked around thinking that you could find this hole in the wall in Mexico with the erratic fit-out, faux exposed brick, exposed pipes and the smoke alarm on the ceiling that has no cover or battery, but also because I thought the place was dirty. The alligator clips that affixed the paper on top of the table cloth had some dried salsa on them (not just the table I was sitting at) and after looking at the long bench against the perimeter wall, I noticed food on it too. Still, fitting in with the whole Mexican theme it works, as that is what you find in Mexico.
As there is no list of tasty alcoholic beverages to choose from, water was served in branded paper cups. I can't say that I am the biggest environmentalist but in this day and age where everyone is carrying on about recycling, I would have thought that others would have demonised the restaurant long before me for serving water in paper cups. The taqueria also tries to deceive you as they do have a bar but it is stocked with empty bottles of liquor.
The menu is short. You have six tacos to choose from (4 tacos for $20) and three types of dips ($10 each) so I opted for the guacamole to start. When you order you are advised that they only accept cash so we dug in our pockets and found a total of $60 in reserve so decided to enjoy eight tacos and that single order of guacamole.
Despite being anxious and all signs up until then when the guacamole being served demonstrated that I was going to be disappointed and sullen, it turned out to be really nice. There was a fair amount of warm chips provided and the guacamole had a bit of a creamy zing. The tacos later came out on a bastardised plate that was made out of bamboo and you are provided a small oblong piece of bamboo with some shredded cabbage to use as your personal drip plate to consume the tacos. First off, the tortillas were just awesome. Nothing like I have tasted before and obviously pressed on-site as they are so unique. Very light yet robust and they did not crack or fall apart when I manhandled any of my targets. The salsa that is provided in a bottle resembled what I make at home but was just less spicy, so when added the to first fish (pescado) taco, it went down my gob like a charm. My biggest irritant when it comes to Mexican food, especially tacos, is that the tortilla can not handle excessive amounts of ingredients, especially juices from meat and fish. Although the fish was a little dry, I would rather have that instead of juicy fish that would have dripped all over my hand and destroyed the taco. The remaining tacos, had a unique charcoal flavour which I can never achieve properly at home and frankly, haven't had the pleasure of coming across anywhere else in Melbourne. I really liked the pollo (chicken) taco especially because there was a hint of guacamole, the asada (beef) taco also was charcoaled well and once again did not destroy the tortilla and finally, my favourite, the tacos al carbon with the primary taste of pineapple was fantastic.
I am torn about this place. Sure, it does look like a place you would come across in Mexico, however some of the drawbacks are inherent with that style more indirectly. $50 for eight tacos and guacamole is a bit much but then again the quality was very good and I enjoyed everything that I ate. Sadly, I wasn't able to consume any alcohol and enjoy the experience at a heightened level but if I had, I would have wanted to pay with a credit card. They do BYO ($5 corkage) so perhaps next time around I will bring in a Rioja (spanish wine or even a six pack of Tecate) and appreciate it for what it is - good street food.
Chingón Cantina y Taqueria
413 Swan Street, Richmond VIC 3121(03) 9429 5695
My Rating: 12.25/20
Value For Money: 2.75/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 70% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Chingón Cantina y Taqueria.