Food Review: Burritos and other Mexican delights
5 May 2010
Benito’s Hat Mexican Kitchen. 56 Goodge Street, London W1T.
Americans love their Cinco de Mayo, although most of us think that it’s Mexico’s Independence Day and assume that everyone who speaks Spanish celebrates it with lots of margaritas and guacamole.
5 May is actually the anniversary of the 1862 Mexicans victory, over a French army twice their size, in the Battle of Puebla - a battle they won in a war they lost. It’s not really celebrated in Mexico, except for in Puebla, but that doesn’t stop the U.S. from donning a sombrero and heading out for a burrito.
The Culture Cats skipped the sombrero, and Posh Cat even skipped the burrito in favor of a salad, but we skipped to Goodge Street to satisfy our holiday needs. We followed our American hearts and rice-and-beans-loving noses straight to Benito’s Hat, a favorite of Londoners with a passion for Mexican food— which tends to translate to “Americans”. (The guy in front of us in line was wearing cargo shorts and a t-shirt that said, “I’d do anything for a burrito”.) Benito hadn’t been too busy decorating, but the place looked festive enough, with some Mexican flags in places we weren’t used to seeing (yeah, we’ve been here a few times before, but we’ve yet to buy t-shirts about it):
So after soaking up a bit of the ambiance, we got in line at the counter and got down to business.
Have you been to Chipotle? Or Moe’s? The set up is a bit like that, except that behind the counter are such ingredients as “slow-cooked black beans gently flavoured with avocado leaves”, a genuinely Mexican technique, and “super-slow braised pork, simmered gently with lime juice, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, cumin and oregano until melt in your mouth tender”, a genuinely accurate description.
There are 4 steps Benito and his hat put you through before you get to peel back the tin foil and live in a world of Mexican perfection for a few minutes.
- Choose your meal.
Burritos, tacos, salad, or soup. Please don’t get the soup. I’m sure it’s great, but don’t get the soup. Prices range from £4 to £6.50, depending on what you do in steps two and three. Cans of Coke are £1.
- Choose your filling.
- Steak. The most expensive choice, marinated overnight, delicate, and juicy. Probably worth the extra £1, and it’s Cinco de Mayo, so just do it. Water and chips are free.
- Chicken. Try Ben’s or Felipe’s, marinated in different spices and cooked using different techniques. Choose the one that sounds best, or better yet, look at the canisters in front of you and choose the one that looks better. I bet if you asked they would even give you a lil’ sample of each so you could really know who you prefer.
- Pork. My favorite because of its complexity and tenderness and its coherence with the rest of the burrito’s offerings. This choice is especially blind-blowing when you get to the bottom of the burrito and there’s a pool of the lime juice, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, cumin and oregano combination just waiting for you. I, Nom Cat, hereby dub it the patient pork puddle.
- Vegetables. A good choice if you’re trying to take the healthy route, but the free guacamole may or may not cancel this out. The veggies are zucchini (or courgette, if you’re not American, but everyone is and it’s Cinco de Mayo so I’m saying zucchini), peppers, and chayote. They are all perfectly cooked to be tender but not crunchy and have more flavor complexity than Chipotle’s chickens even dream about.
- Choose your topping.
First, choose black beans or refried beans. Then, add coriander and lime rice, choose your filling (see step 2), and make your way along the counter as you decide whether or not - don’t choose not, unless you already broke the rules and chose soup - to add lettuce, cheese, sour cream, guacamole (worth all 50 extra p’s) and salsa. Salsa’s in two steps, so don’t get confused: first, choose medium or hot (salsa verde or salsa brava) and then choose whether to add pico de gallo. Professional topping lovers are free to ask for jalapeño chillies, chopped coriander and onion or a squeeze of lime juice.
- Choose your drinks + sides.
You’ve completed the construction of your Mexican masterpiece, so add on a Coke or some salsa to go with your free chips, and get movin’. Burrito bliss awaits. Beer is £3.50 and students get 2-for-1 margaritas, and if you’re curious about what Vampire Weekend was talking about, you can try the horchata for £1.50.
I meant to take a picture earlier, but the nommage of Nom Cat was unstoppable, and this was the point at which I took my first breath. The rice and beans, pork, tomatoes, coriander, and guacamole co-mingle to create a kind of beauty that Americans love to celebrate: heart-stoppingly delicious beauty.
Is Mexican food not your thing? Goodge Street is chock-full of delicious and cheap eateries. For Italian, go to Italiano Coffee Co., which serves pizzas from £3.50. For Japanese, go across the street to Yoi Sho. For British, go to One Tun. For Tapas, go to Salt Yard (££).