Aoife Carrigy visits the new home of Dublin's much-loved Mexican taqueria.
Most restaurant openings follow one of two formats: a soft opening peopled by forgiving family and friends to tease out teething problems, or the noisy hoopla of celebrity guests and media invites and hyperbolic press releases.
There is a third way, however, which is to arm your gowned-up priest of preference with a Harper Collins Study Bible and have him bless the restaurant with a holy water-soaked red gerbera flower before throwing an almighty feast of a party, complete with mariachi singalongs. This we now know is: The El Grito Way. And it’s just one reason to love this utterly adorable new Northside Dublin beaut.
There is already a lot of love for El Grito. Working out of a teensy space in Merchant’s Arch in Temple Bar, they won many hearts with big flavours and low prices. When they moved to Mountjoy Square in March, I worried. Would people know they’re there, tucked away in a Croker-side basement of this forlorn square?
We visited on Easter Tuesday when most of the city was either on holidays or basking in the last of the long weekend’s sunshine. Locals of various nationalities were out playing footie, basketball and table tennis in the square, which was far from forlorn, and a good twenty or so fellow customers were also in the mood for what fans call the best Tex-Mex food in town.
The last time I was in this basement, it was home to Ireland’s only Polish restaurant, Sopot, a beerhall-style joint whose vaulted arches and exposed brick walls made a natural backdrop for rib-sticking bigos (hunters stew) and hearty pierogi (dumplings). I was sorry to see it go but impressed with how thoroughly El Grito has acclimatised.
Mi casa es sou casa
Everywhere you look, there’s a riot of garishness – in bright streetscape murals, paper-flag bunting and hanging woven baskets overflowing with plastic flowers. A pair of flat-screens air camped-up dramas set in the steamy Xochimilco canals and back alleys of Mexico City, or videos promoting El Grito’s speciality drinks (meet Calimocho’s sister TNT, a suspicious pairing of red wine and green energy drink). The combined effect is dizzyingly disarming.
Out the back of the two main dining rooms, a cosy vaulted booth and apex-roofed conservatory cater for large bookings – and the charming server at the self-service counter admitted relief on having a quiet night after their busy first weeks.
The food offering has stayed much the same though items are now priced individually. You’re still looking at between €5 and €9.95, whether you opt for cheap-as-chips nachos or a feed of alambre, featuring a bowl of pastor – spit-grilled, pineapple-marinated pork, with warm soft corn tortillas and aromatic trimmings. The menu is a graphic design car-crash, but focus on it long enough and you’ll also discern choices like bread-based tortas – flour tortilla burritos and its fried cousin – chimichanga, and chilaquiles of ‘divorced’ (fried) eggs, tortilla chips, refried beans and trimmings (weekend mornings only).
Some of my happiest memories from a glorious month-long jaunt around Mexico involved eating at street-side taquerias, so we sampled one of each of the nine tacos (soft corn tortilla) on offer at €1.50 each, or €2 with cheese if you favour feeding over flavour.
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You put the lime on the Taco... and then you eat it. No shaking it all up involved ( @celestecamposc) . . . #ElGrito #dublin #restaurant #tasty #instafood #food #ireland #restaurantireland #food #dining #foodie #foodstagram #foodpics #foodpic #foodies #foodography #foodaroundtheworld #foodfood #taco #tacos #funny #meme #foodislove #mexican #mexicanfood #tacopun #discoverdublin #discoverireland #lovindublin
The mixed veg taco was pretty meh, as was the albeit brighter hibiscus, but vegetarians might best stick to nachos or sides of decent guacamole (€1.20) and chips – totopos (€3). The crispy fish taco was much better and the chipotle chicken was very good, with a texture that suggested it had been roasted whole and pulled.
For me, the Irish-sourced pork and beef fillings won hands down; crunchy piquant pastor; crumbly aromatic Mexican chorizo; juicy strips of slow-cooked beef barbacoa, and a revelatory cumin-spiced chilli con carne. We also sampled a couple of Volcan al pastor (€2.50), crispy corn tacos smothered in cheese, which I felt distracted from the nuanced flavour of those corn tortillas and marinated pork.
We topped up from four different salsas, including a tangy salsa verde, hot habanero salsa and smoky mixed chilli salsa. And we washed it down with a holiday-evoking Michelada – Corona beer spiced with Worchestershire sauce, Tabasco, lime juice and Maggi sauce, and Red Lion – as above, but with tomato juice too, both at €5.99. Soft drinks include horchado – rice water with cinnamon, hibiscus water and tamarind water (€2).
The only downer was an unpleasant dessert of fried ice-cream (€4.50), ‘soaked’ in a pancake, deep-fried in what tasted like old oil and drizzled with a thin chocolate sauce.
All in all though, El Grito has done the unimaginable, put Mountjoy Square on Dublin’s gastronomic map with one of the best value and most charming eateries in town.
The bottom line: we spent €40.38 before a tip for a two-person feed of tacos, volcans and sides with two beer cocktails and an ill-advised dessert
El Grito Mexican Taqueria
20 Mountjoy Square East, Dublin 1
Author: Aoife Carrigy
Author: Aoife Carrigy
Aoife’s first proper work experience (if you don’t count a formative stint as the milkman’s assistant) was a TY placement as commis chef in The Wishbone in Glasthule, where she caught the restaurant bug. From her teens and through her 20s she worked front-of-house in restaurants around Dublin and beyond, before a freelance gig as restaurant columnist for the Dublin Event Guide and then Totally Dublin turned into a five-year full-time editorial stint in FOOD&WINE Magazine. She has been freelance since 2010 and keeps herself busy co-writing and editing cookbooks as well as writing on food, drinks and travel. Aoife is WSET-trained and is currently researching a Masters on ‘Cultural Representations of the Irish Pub’ at TU Dublin.