As a departure from the thematic resonance seen in Parts 1 & 2 of my Barcelona round-up – an account of Tapas so thorough that it needed to be split into two like a work of Young Adult Literature – Part 3 serves to tie up all of the loose ends; the street food and fast food and the bars with nothing else in common other than the fact they’re not Tapas.
La Sagrada Familia is surrounded by exactly the sort of restaurant you’d expect at a major tourist attraction. As soon as you emerge from the Metro you’re met with 2 of the Big 3 fast food chains. Cross the road on any of the Cathedral’s four sides to get a better view of it, and you’ll be faced with restaurants plastered in photographs of pale hotdogs and limp bravas, looped infinitely like a cartoon backdrop.
Remarkably, La Taqueria – a tiny, busy, authentic Mexican street food cantina – sits just two minutes walk away from all of that, down a quiet leafy side-street (Passatge de Font) at the back of the Sagrada Familia that you wouldn’t think to wander down without a good reason – memories of eating there last year was enough reason for me.
Walking past it – even stopping to peer through the window into the dimly-lit dining room – it all looks fairly unassuming. Open the door though, and you’re met by a combination of sounds and smells as incongruous to its surroundings as a prohibition speakeasy – it feels like you’ve just opened a pipe of crisps in a Pringles advert. It’s an exciting feeling – but one you should try and savour, it soon begins to wane.
Anticipating how busy it was likely to be, and the fact it’s such a small restaurant (I counted 32 covers squeezed into the 20 x 12ft operable floor space) we booked our table for six in advance – no problems there. When we arrived our table for 6 was actually a table for 4, with an extra two stools pulled up so that two people could sit on the end of the table, right in the centre aisle of the dining room. Our order for Margaritas was taken pretty quickly, but it took 20 minutes for them to arrive, and another 10 for the Michelada I ordered at the same time.
Credit where it’s due, the Margaritas were huge and faultless, and the Michelada – with an umami grunt coming from the clam juice – erased all others (admittedly, only one or two) from my memory, but there’s not a drink in the world that I’d happily wait half an hour for.
Shortly after this, our waiter sauntered to the table and took our orders – six people, each ordering various starters, mains and sides, and he didn’t even write anything down on a notepad. “How impressive!” we thought; “What a professional! Let’s applaud his aptitude and admire his nonchalance”.
When the food started to arrive we continued to be impressed; the first mouthful of refried beans was a lot to take in – pinto beans slow-cooked to a paste with bacon fat and heaped with powdered pork scratchings; the world’s most deliciously irresponsible corner yoghurt. More pork fat came in the form of Chicharrón – a bowl of gelatinous rinds from a pigs cooked with onions and cactus, which despite my best efforts, I couldn’t fully get on board with.
The Queso Fundidos was very disappointing. I expected something billed as “Melted cheese with Longaniza” to be a kind of sausage fondue, rather than a pork pie with the pastry replaced by cheese. Eating it was like chewing an old sponge used to dab pools of excess oil from cheese on toast, and once the flavour had gone, all that remained was an elastic mass of cheese-texture in the mouth; an exam desk’s-worth of old, tasteless chewing gum.
The Nachos were nachos – the thing about them that most caught my attention was that they were topped with the finest diced, sweet onion I’ve ever encountered. If you’re not as enamoured by dicing-aptitude as I am though, there’s little that would stick in your memory.
The Beef Tongue Taco, was the small, soft kind that lay open on your plate, showing off just how much is inside them. The tongue was surprisingly tender, with a little give in it, but not enough so that it gets dragged out of the taco and leaves filling all over your lap. The Arrachera Special reminded me of a Mexican take on the Thai dish Khao Kluk Kapi, or the British delicacy Dairlylea Lunchable; your plate contains a little bit of several things to combine at your leisure. In this case our plates had flank steak, rice, guacamole, frijole charros – “Cowbow beans” with a rich, smokey taste of bacon – a cheese-stuffed jalapeno and grilled cactus. As the doting Father of several cacti and other succulents, I felt more guilt about eating one of them than I did about eating the piece of cow; and right there and then, a simple Mexican Dairlyea Lunchable transformed into a catalyst for analysing the inconsistencies in my moral compass. Time for the bill.
Predictably, the bill contained many mistakes. Being charged for unwanted guacamole, missing Poblano peppers, more drinks that never got round to arriving at the table – and then being accused of lying about it obviously isn’t enough to ruin a holiday, but it’s an inconvenience that could have been avoided if our eaiter had just written down our order, instead of acting like Matthew McConaughey in an apron. Ignore the shitty service though and La Taqueria is a great place to eat, and not bad value at about €30 per head, including booze and a well-earned 0% service charge.
As a bonus across the street is an amazing little bodega owned by the same people as the cantina, where you can try & buy hot sauce, imported tequilas, soft drinks, graphic-novellas featuring thick-thighed, gun-toting cholitas and all sorts. If like me, you’re the kind of person who goes to New York and spends longer in the supermarket condiment aisle than looking at the Empire State Building, you’ll really dig this place.
The burger I ate at Kiosko last year immediately stood out for being like no burger I’d ever eaten before – a medium-rare patty, thoughtful toppings, and served in something called a brioche; it was madness. So good that I ate another one straight away, and then returned the next day for another. I’d heard about these trendy burgers – tales from London had made their way north, but how was I to know if they were true or fable?
Shortly afterwards, burger joints started popping up in Leeds – just one or two at first, then a new one each month, then several every month, soon they were setting up shop in every publicly accessible nook and cranny. The rise in the presence of burgers over the past 12 months has been enormous (as illustrated by the highly scientific graph below); In terms of ubiquity the only thing that came close to a parallel is Pharrell Williams. I know, I should have said “Pharrellel“.