A great chasm in the Sydney dining scene has always been the lack of quality Mexican restaurants serving authentic cuisine.
Changing that stereotype is newcomer, Playa Takeria, a restaurant in Darlinghurst that takes its name from a romantic place in Cancun, Playa del Carmen.
Opened for just over a month, Playa has quickly become popular and queues to dine at this 40-seat restaurant often stretch the length of the footpath.
Playa Takeria is a quirky and tiny restaurant decorated in vibrant tones and a clash of furniture, with brightly coloured and mismatched plates and glassware. But somehow it all comes together.
Everything is so bright and festive it brings to mind the Mexican celebration of ‘The Day of the Dead’. While the interior walls host a lot of Mexican memorabilia, the most outstanding feature of the restaurant is the exterior wall mural of a modernised and more edgy, Freda.
Playa is owned by Mexican-born, Ricardo, and the three chefs are from Mexico City but have most recently worked in the Caribbean. All the wait-staff are Spanish-speaking so with the loud music, the eclectic mix of colours and so many people speaking in Spanish, we knew we were in for an authentic experience.
I had a heavy cold and was feeling like I was coming down with the flu however, we headed into the city for a family night out minus Archie. We sat at an outdoor table and started the evening with a traditional cocktail. Mine was mango and it tasted so good it was dangerous. Arabella had a tamarind cocktail that was tart and sour and refreshing.
Of course Alfie didn’t want to be left out and so after a non-alcoholic sangria he was given a tropical mango mocktail. He wasn’t keen on the sangria but he did love his mocktail.
We started the meal with guacamole and corn chips. The guacamole had a strong flavour of lime juice which went very well with the chilli-spiced corn chips. I do think citrus and chilli pair very well together.
Next we had Ceviche Tulum Tostaditas where the fish is ‘cooked’ in lime juice then mixed with tomato, onion and coriander. This dish was a firm favourite of Drew’s although the little guy couldn’t be convinced that fish coated in lime juice to cook it is a good idea but did agree, these tostaditas have sensational colour.
The Mujeres Tostaditas with prawns, tomato, onion, avocado, jalapeno, lime and chipotle secret salsa were another favourite of Drew’s who by now, was lapsing into Spanish like the staff around him. There was a very good kick of chilli in these tostaditas that was doing wonders for my cold/flu symptoms.
The Elotes de Barrio or Grilled Mexicano-style corn was next to arrive. Alfie and I are big fans of corn and this corn was amazingly good. It was steamed then finished on the chargrill and served with a sprinkle of cheese and a squeeze of lime.
We moved onto tacos and started with the Taco Don Pastor, a marinated pork taco with pineapple. Probably my most favourite taco of the night, the pork was very tender and the pineapple really sweet.
To enjoy the tacos we ordered a bottle of Catena Malbec, a wine from Argentina. The wine list at Playa isn’t large but all wines are from South America. The Catena Malbec is a lovely smooth wine that pairs well with spicy food.
One of the tacos I really loved was the Taco Palenque V with huitlacoche, zucchini, corn, chile ancho, chile chipotle, sour cream and parmesan. I’m not sure I’ve ever had huitlacoche and when it was described to me it did sound alarming as it is corn smut that is a grey fungus that attacks ears of corn, causing kernels to swell dramatically in size. It’s other name is corn truffle and to me it has the texture and taste of smoked eggplant. I’m a fan!
We absolutely had to try a Gringa Santanera quesadillas, made with marinated pork, mozzarella cheese and chipotle. I wish I could tell you what these were like but unfortunately I had had an accident with the complimentary salsas and eaten a teaspoon of machete habanero thinking it was mild. Wrong! That is the hottest of the salsas. My tastebuds were numb but my sinus passages were miraculously healed.
Our final shared plate for the evening was the Burrito El Compadre with grilled chicken, Puebla rice, pinto beans, Spanish onion and Chipotle salsa. This was a lovely soft burrito with plenty of filling. One of these would be a meal on its own and it comes with plenty of texture and flavour.
Ricardo didn’t want us to leave without a shot of Mezcal, which is a smoked cousin of Tequila. Now…I’m not actually a fan of Tequila and have lived a long time without feeling any need for shots of 47% alcohol.
However, Ricardo explained that on special occasions when family and friends are gathered, a bottle of Mezcal is brought to the table and it is polite to have a shot before the meal and at the end of the meal. I do hate to be rude so after a brief toast it was bottoms-up and I had my first shot of Mezcal. I can definitely say I preferred my glass of Catena Malbec but that Mezcal has medicinal purposes if you feel you’re coming down with the flu.
We took the Churros Condesa with caramel sauce to go.
Play Takeria is an authentic Mexican dining experience where your senses will be transported to South America. It’s a tiny restaurant with a short wine list and a small menu but the dining experience isn’t lacking in any way.
Verdict: As Mexican as it gets.
Hotly Spiced and crew dined at Playa Takeria as guests.
Playa Takeria: 132 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst, Sydney 2010
Ph: 02 9332 4206