Mexi-mum Impact

Just a few years ago, it was near impossible to find good Mexican grub in Singapore. Only one or two spots in town served it, like stalwart restaurant Cha Cha Cha—which opened in 1990—at expat enclave Holland Village, followed by Cafe Iguana. More recently, Spruce even launched a short-lived taco truck Spruce Taqueria at Phoenix Park. But a recent influx of new eateries has made the cuisine, if not exactly ubiquitous, then really trendy all over the city. And these joints don’t just play it safe: They provide vibrant flavors, cool vibes and—increasingly—more exotic and authentic recipes.

Times a-Changin’
Jonathan Yang, founder of Californian-Mexican burrito joint Muchachos says, “Well-made Mexican food is something that this country has been curiously lacking for the longest time. If you ask me, the interest has always been there, it just went largely unsatisfied.”

And really, Mexican flavors are not as far off from local tastes as it might initially seem. Chef-owner at off-Boat Quay eatery El Rocho’s Marcus Loh adds, “People here are also starting to identify similarities in ingredients—tomatoes, cilantro, jicama, chilli and onions—and styles of cooking between Mexican cuisine and Southeast Asian cuisine.”

All Sexed Up
Besides, Mexican newbies have made the cuisine look plain cool. Min Chan, proprietor of Asian-Mexican eatery Pistola says, “The new Mexican places I have been to—Lucha Loco, Mex Out and Muchachos—are all sexy and trendy.”

For sure, the latest Mexican eateries tend to share an edgy urban vibe with exposed lighting and raw unfinished concrete floors. Also, gone are the tacky mariachi bands and folk tunes favored by old school Latin joints. Now it’s cool jams—we’re partial to Pistola’s track of 90s’ rock—creating the perfect vibe to chow down on their fresh take on Latin fare. No longer bogged down by American-style ingredients like bulk cheese and sour cream, the food’s creative, appealing and light enough that you can still go out and party after a meal.

More Tongue
What’s more, the new breed of Mexican chefs is ready to push local palates. Ajay Parag, one of the founders of popular Mexican spot Lucha Loco, wants to serve grasshoppers (a popular Mexican street snack), though he does worry that sourcing will be a challenge and it might not be well received. And Loh, who already has an ox tongue taco on the menu at El Rocho’s, says, “I’d love to have more offal on the menu, like a good old tripas taco.”

Yang too would like to offer more off cuts at Muchachos and explains, “Lengua, or beef tongue, for burrito or taco aficionados in the know, is a highly prized menu offering. I plan to offer it as a seasonal or promotional item if I get enough requests.”

Money Talks
The only thing holding back Mexican food now is the price of ingredients. Chan says, “Pricing on everything—from hot sauce to tortillas—here makes it difficult for restaurants to offer the cuisine at price points many of our guests are used to. For Mexican food to take off, it really needs to become more wallet friendly!”

Yang agrees, “Mexican food should be cheap, grubby, greasy, and tasty street cart fare.” Prices are something that he—like many new Latin food purveyors—is trying to change.

A burrito at Muchachos goes for just $12 (and you can get a smaller Burritino for $9) and a burrito at Mex Out costs $10, while a chicken or beef taco will set you back only $7 at El Rocho’s.  

“Low reasonable prices were a hard point for me. I remember balking when I found myself having to pay anywhere from $17-23 for bad burritos in this country, so now that I’m on the other side of the counter, I can finally do something about it.”