Will Ferrell's favourite, and my new London go-to for authentic Mexican...
I consider myself a bit of a Mexican food connoisseur. My first ever job in London was manager of a tequila bar and taqueria, where I learned that lime + salt + tequila = uncouth, and that real Mexican food is made with passion, love and family in mind. El Patron was where I first tasted salpicon de res (slow-cooked shredded beef), learned how to make a Tommy's margarita (see recipe below), and where I built an unlikely friendship with a 40-year-old Mexican chef called Fernando (still one of my closest friends today). When the bar closed down in 2016, my boyfriend and I embarked on what has, thus far, been a 2-year-long crusade to find beef tacos as good as Fernando's. Sure, we could ask him for the recipe, but where's the thrill in that?
We've tried everything from Wahaca to Pop Brixton's Maria Sabina, but there's always something missing. The tacos are always too small, or too expensive (in Mexico they are ridiculously cheap); or its that the pinto beans don't taste quite right, or worse - they use Jose Cuervo 😒 in their margaritas. Nowhere, to date, has matched the authenticity and flavour of the food Fernando cooked...until we tried Azteca.
We went there recently on a Sunday night, after seeing an Instagram post of Will Ferrell dining there (MUST be good), and my respect was won instantly, for the walls are lined with bottles of beautiful tequilas including Fortaleza, Arette and Tapatio - and it just so happened that we arrived during happy hour. We ordered 2 margaritas (£4.80 each) and they arrived in giant rocks glasses rimmed with Tajin (a Mexican salt seasoned with lime and chilli). A very good start.
FUN FACT: Lime & salt is allegedly an invention created by Americans to mask the flavour of cheaply produced tequilas, often ones which are not 100% blue agave and therefore substituted with chemicals - the kind that gave tequila a bad rap. Good tequilas should be drunk neat, or with a wedge of orange - but Azteca's use of Tajin was surprisingly good in this case.
We ordered chips and guac, and two orders of steak tacos - both of which were completely authentic and delicious. Although it wasn't quite what we were looking for (salpicon de res is like a Mexican food unicorn, it would seem) these steak tacos certainly filled the gap temporarily. The refried beans were bloody good too, and as a whole, the dish was the perfect amount at a refreshing price.
Visually, the restaurant is nothing flashy. Dia de los Muertos merchandise covers the walls, and the tables are surrounded by cozy benches draped with aztec rugs and cushions. But the atmosphere is fun, the margaritas are cheap and the music is an eclectic mix of samba and 80s disco, which always makes for a good time. As we devour our tacos, the proprietor - a young Mexican man of about 30 - beams proudly at the community of people eating together in his restaurant... That's what real Mexican food is all about: passion, love and family.
In the unlikely borough of Chelsea, Azteca is a hidden gem serving authentic food at refreshing prices. 10/10. (Azteca Latin Lounge, 329 King's Road, Chelsea, SW3 5ES)
Tommy's Margarita Recipe
- 50ml Arette Reposado Tequila
- 25ml Lime Juice
- 10ml Agave Nectar
Combine ingredients in a boston shaker with ice, then shake and strain into an iced rocks glass. No garnish necessary. 🥃